Honolulu Lite

Charles Memminger

It’s no shock that Simms
did not get reappointed

It is with no joy and little surprise to learn that state Circuit Judge Sandra Simms will not be reappointed for another 10-year term on the bench.

I've been critical of Simms, but recent disclosures about her son's legal troubles seem to put some of Simms', shall we say, "charitable" treatment of criminals in perspective.

In a state in which judges are notoriously easy on bad guys (the general rule seems to be you have to kill at least TWO people to get life in prison -- and then the governor might pardon you), Simms gave the term "softy" new meaning.

The most notorious of her get-outta-jail-free cards was dealt to a punk who took part in the brutal beating and robbery of a Chicago police officer on vacation on the North Shore. Rodney Balbirona was convicted of theft in that case because he simply stole the victim's belongings while his buddy beat the crapola out of the man. Simms found Balbirona's role in the robbery/beating exculpatory when the rest of the world considered him an equal partner in the near homicide. Simms gave Balbirona probation, which he violated. She gave him probation again, which he violated. And then, to the amazement of just about everyone, she gave him probation a THIRD time. He violated that, too. She finally put him in prison for five years.

Another guy already on probation for a felony broke a kid's jaw. Simms let him stay out of jail for nearly four months so he could bond with his newborn son, which he conveniently sired after the assault.

And, she cut a 10-year drunk-driving sentence in half for man convicted of DUI three times in one year.

Many, including then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, were hard pressed to understand Judge Simms' leniency, bizarre even by Hawaii standards.

Then this year, her 25-year-old son, Richard, was indicted for assault, terroristic threatening, DUI, leaving the scene of an accident and car theft after what can only be called a "hate crime." Richard Simms, who is black, assaulted a Caucasian 17-year-old without provocation, made racial slurs and fled in the victim's car, which he promptly crashed. Turns out Richard had a record of 15 prior arrests on charges including theft and DUI. Hmmm. Theft, DUI, assault ... sounds like the kinds of offenses Judge Mom went easy on.

Is it possible she saw a little of her son in those other defendants standing before her and reflexively gave them a break? I'm no psychologist, but it seems to me that her son's history might have had some bearing on her judicial demeanor, and at the very least, she should publicly have admitted to a conflict of interest.

The Judicial Selection Commission just rejected Simms' application for reappointment. There is no joy in seeing the judicial career of an obviously compassionate jurist come to an end, especially one who faces serious family problems. But there's love and there's tough love. Judge Simms should have practiced a bit more of the latter.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Charles Memminger, winner of National Society of Newspaper Columnists awards, appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail


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