Hong rejected
as Hilo judge

By a 13-12 vote, the Senate
turns down Lingle’s nominee
largely along party lines

State Senate Democrats have dealt Gov. Linda Lingle her third loss in high-profile appointments in two years by rejecting Ted Hong's nomination to the Circuit Court bench in Hilo yesterday.

The Senate, citing questions about Hong's temperament and a negative recommendation from the Hawaii State Bar Association, voted 13-12 to turn down his appointment. Last year, the Senate rejected two Lingle nominees -- Sheldon Jim On and Edward Sultan -- to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents.

It is a "sad day for me personally and a sad day for the Big Island. ... The bottom line is the senators who voted against Ted made a very bad decision and totally disrespected the people of the Big Island, who overwhelming supported Ted's appointment," Lingle said.

The governor will have 10 days to pick one of the remaining five names on a list of judicial candidates submitted by the Judicial Selection Commission to fill the vacancy.

Hong, Lingle's chief labor negotiator and an interim member of the Board of Regents, said he will stay active in state politics.

Hong said he will continue as chief labor negotiator and remain on the Board of Regents until Lingle nominates a new appointee.

Hong, who organized the campaign for the Democrats for Lingle on the Big Island two years ago, characterized himself as an independent thinker with something to contribute.

"We were one vote short of breaking this culture of fear. ... There seems to be an idea that culturally, we can't tolerate people who are willing to express different ideas in a different way, that we all have to follow this cookie-cutter approach by being silent and working behind the scenes," Hong said during a news conference after the vote.

"I come from a generation where that is not acceptable. ... In November we are going to make that opportunity happen," he said.

Hong's Senate opponents said it was not his brashness or independence that troubled them so much as the bar association report that said he was "not qualified" to be a judge.

But the chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, criticized the bar association's process because it was secret and based on just 56 anonymous e-mails sent in from among the 4,300 bar members.

"Something is fundamentally wrong with the system," Hanabusa said as she led off a 2 1/2-hour floor debate on Hong's nomination.

"Giving weight to the testimony is critical, but you have to know the source," Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) added.

Of the Senate's six attorneys, five, including Hanabusa, voted for Hong. Sen. Carol Fukunaga (D, Lower Makiki-Punchbowl) was the only attorney to vote against him.

Lingle also criticized those who voted against Hong because of the bar association rejection.

"I do think the bar association was used as a cover for people who wanted to vote no," Lingle said.

Lingle and Hong's supporters had argued that the Judicial Selection Commission, whose nine members are appointed by the House speaker, Senate president, governor, Supreme Court chief justice and the bar association, found Hong qualified.

"Ted was among six candidates found to be qualified," Lingle said. "To ignore that and rely instead on a bar association vote, they simply were not looking at it in an objective fashion."

On the Senate floor, however, Sen. Norman Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) said, "Everyday citizens have raised concerns."

Sen. Lorraine Inouye (D, Hilo-Honokaa), who ran and lost twice to Hong's former employer, former Big Island Mayor Steve Yamashiro, said the bar association opinion was critical.

"It is very significant that the bar association gave Mr. Hong an unqualified rating," she said.

Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) said he "placed great stock in the bar association" and that being rejected by his peers was reason enough to vote him down.

Hong's supporters, such as Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Kailua), argued that Hong's fault was that as an attorney "he rubbed some people the wrong way."

"The evidence for him from attorneys and his family is overwhelming," Hogue said.

Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) said Hong had "apologized five or six times during the hearing" for mistakes in temperament but that judges are not supposed to make those kinds of mistakes.

"Being a judge, you have to be on top of things 100 percent of the time," Kawamoto said.

Who voted for, against Ted Hong

Voting against Hong were 13 Democrats:
Sens. Rosalyn Baker (Honokohau-Makena), Suzanne Chun Oakland (Kalihi-Liliha), Willie Espero (Ewa-Kapolei-Ewa Beach), Carol Fukunaga (Lower Makiki-Punchbowl), Gary Hooser (Kauai-Niihau), David Ige (Aiea-Pearl City), Les Ihara Jr. (Kahala-Palolo), Lorraine Inouye (Hilo-Honokaa), Brian Kanno (Kalaeloa-Makakilo), Cal Kawamoto (Waipahu), Donna Kim (Kalihi Valley-Halawa), Norman Sakamoto (Salt Lake-Foster Village) and Shan Tsutsui (Wailuku-Kahului).

Voting in favor of Hong were 12 senators:
Seven Democrats: Sens. Russell Kokubun (Hilo-Naalehu), J. Kalani English (East Maui-Lanai-Molokai), Brian Taniguchi (Moiliili-Manoa), Ron Menor (Mililani), Colleen Hanabusa (Nanakuli-Makua), Melodie Williams Aduja (Kahuku-Kaneohe) and Robert Bunda (Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea).

Five Republicans: Sens. Paul Whalen (Milolii-Waimea), Sam Slom (Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai), Gordon Trimble (Downtown-Waikiki), Bob Hogue (Kaneohe-Kailua) and Fred Hemmings (Lanikai-Waimanalo).


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