Gov. Linda Lingle, left, and her chief of staff, Bob Awana, sat in support of Ted Hong, right, at yesterday's hearing.

Close vote predicted
on Hong judgeship

His nomination clears
the Judiciary panel 5-2
after eight hours


Monday, March 15, 2003

>> Gov. Linda Lingle has 10 days to pick a nominee to the Circuit Court bench in Hilo, now that Ted Hong has been rejected by the state Senate. The name must come from the remaining five names on a list of candidates submitted by the Judicial Selection Commission to fill the vacancy. A Page A1 story Thursday incorrectly reported that the commission would pick the nominee.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

Ted Hong's nomination to the Big Island Circuit Court -- debated uninterrupted in committee for eight hours yesterday -- is headed for a state Senate showdown tomorrow.

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Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Colleen Hanabusa predicted that tomorrow's vote would be close, with Hong's confirmation being approved or failing by one vote.

Hong's appointment cleared the Judiciary Committee in a 5-2 vote last night with bipartisan support from attorneys and politicians across the state, and a strong defense from Hanabusa.

The vote was divided with strong support coming from only three of the seven Judiciary members: Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Waianae), Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua) and J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai). Voting in favor, but with reservations, were Sens. Carol Fukunaga (D, Lower Makiki-Punchbowl) and Les Ihara (D, Kapahulu-Palolo).

Hong, a key member of the Lingle administration who now serves as chief of collective bargaining and an interim member of the University of Hawaii Board of Regents, was opposed by Sens. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) and Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha).

Controversy about Hong's nomination to the Circuit Court seat in Hilo was sparked this week when the Hawaii State Bar Association said he was not qualified for the position because he lacked judicial temperament.

But yesterday's hearing turned into a trial of the bar association's process, which Hanabusa, an attorney, and several other lawyers found wanting.

Attorney Eric Seitz, who said he had represented clients against Hong, when the 46-year-old University of Hawaii law school graduate was a deputy corporation counsel for Hawaii County, favored Hong's appointment to the bench.

"I am utterly appalled by the position taken by the bar association," Seitz said. "The process is utterly absurd and you should disregard it. The bar association is doing itself a disservice."

After the hearing, Gov. Linda Lingle, who appointed Hong to the post, said the hearing was fair but the bar process was not.

"I don't think it (the bar association's vote) should be given any weight, certainly not any significant weight," Lingle said.

The state Judicial Selection Commission screens candidates for judgeships and then recommends between four and six candidates. The governor must pick one of the six. If a nominee is rejected, then the selection commission picks another candidate from those remaining on the list and sends that name to the Senate for confirmation.

But Hanabusa questioned why the bar association would find the nominee unqualified when the Judicial Selection Commission goes through an exhaustive process of finding qualified candidates.

Hanabusa noted that of the 4,300 bar members in Hawaii, only 56 sent in comments about Hong, and that was too small a minority.

According to the bar association process, after getting comments from association members, the board went into an executive session to make a decision on the candidate.

The board vote was one highly qualified, four qualified, seven not qualified and one abstention. Only 13 of the 19 members on the board voted.

Bar association President Dale Lee said the board did not know who had praised and who had criticized Hong and that the vote to not recommend him was secret.

"This process, like all other human endeavors, is not perfect," said Lee, who is on a list of possible nominees for another judgeship.

During the hearing, Hong was praised by members of the Hilo bar, which supported his nomination, and by a variety of politicians, including Steve Yamashiro, a former Democratic Big Island mayor, who had hired Hong. Influential Big Island Democrats George Yokoyama and Brian De Lima testified for Hong.

At issue during the hearing were concerns that Hong did not have the temperament to be a judge.

The bar association noted that "concerns with judicial temperament were a common thread in the discussions."

Hong said: "I am sure I crossed the line occasionally. But is there a pattern? I would have to say no."

Hanabusa defended Hong by saying that there is a difference in "conduct that is direct and conduct that is intemperate. I have not seen you take arguments personally or carry a grudge."

But other senators said Hong had over-aggressively pursued legal cases and defended his Big Island clients.

"I am just concerned about the pattern I am seeing," Chun Oakland said. "I have never voted against a nominee -- it takes a lot -- but I have a significant number of people come forward that I cannot disregard."

After the hearing, Hong said he had "totally heard the concerns of the senators and taken them to heart."


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