Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

Lingle kicks Supreme
Court in the Duffy

Far be it from me to suggest that Gov. Linda Lingle looks to this column for guidance or inspiration in dealing with the serious issues of the day.

So it must be just coincidence that within months of being the only news source -- if that is what this little exercise in investigative humorism can be called -- to disclose that the state's highest court has collapsed into a bunch of black muumuu-clad crybabies, the governor first publicly described the Hawaii Supreme Court as "dysfunctional" and then appointed a respected local attorney to the bench to try to restore some basic playground etiquette to high court proceedings.

Most people just assume that if you appoint the smartest people and best legal minds to the Supreme Court that the justices would make wise rulings, bring dignity to the venerable old King Street courthouse. Or at least behave. The Latin phrase applicable here, I believe, is "wrongo."

So many, many readers (all right ... five) were surprised when I disclosed in a December "Honolulu Lite" that justices were not playing nicely together. In fact, there was so much back-stabbing going on that some of the justices were breathing through their shoulder blades. The antipathy between Justices Steven Levinson and Simeon Acoba was made particularly obvious when, in a written ruling, Levinson called Acoba's legal insight "puerile."

Judges don't like to come out and call each other "big babies," because they feel like all that money spent on law school would be going to waste. So they flee to their thesaurus to dredge up words like "puerile," which simply means "babylike." Calling a Supreme Court justice a "baby" is about as low as you can go, the lowest being calling the justice a "lawyer."

ALTHOUGH Supreme Court justices are technically on the same power level as the governor, Lingle felt it necessary to let the public know how bad things had gotten in her co-branch of government. And then to show that she was not just name-calling, but actually concerned with the functionality of the high court, she appointed a respected attorney, Jim Duffy, to take the seat vacated by retiring Associate Justice Mario Ramil. In doing so, the Republican governor once again confounded her Democratic Party critics because (surprise!) Duffy's a Democrat.

Well, that just takes all the fun out of state Senate judicial confirmation hearings.

Duffy has been considered for positions as a federal judge and a federal appeals judge. He's wise and dignified and will surely feel completely out of place in the Hawaii Supreme Court. Lingle's hoping he'll set some sort of example on appropriate behavior for the rest of the court. Hoping's good. I, however, suggest he wear a Kevlar back protector under his robes.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. E-mail


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