Judicial pick
gets key support

The Maui Circuit nominee
confirmation is expected
to go for vote on Tuesday

A former Maui prosecutor might have enough votes to become a state judge despite criticisms by the state Senate Judiciary Committee chairwoman.

Key Democratic and Republican senators said yesterday that Richard Bissen, who served as prosecutor while Gov. Linda Lingle was Maui mayor, would make an excellent state judge.

Lingle nominated Bissen to the Maui Circuit Court. Yesterday, he completed the second and final day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee will vote on the nomination today, and it will move to the full Senate.

Bissen has been criticized by Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, Judiciary Committee chairwoman, because he did not tell senators about an unfavorable court ruling that criticized his legal performance. Bissen failed to tell senators that he had a conviction returned by the state appellate court that noted his questioning and summation to the jury showed "prosecutorial misconduct."

"The issue is failure to disclosure; that is the question," Hanabusa said.

"Had it been disclosed, we wouldn't be having this discussion," Hanabusa said yesterday during a hearing on Bissen's nomination.

Bissen told lawmakers that Hawaii Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel dismissed the misconduct complaint, although the office had cautioned him about his conduct.

"I was never found guilty of misconduct," Bissen testified. Bissen also noted that he had told both the Judicial Selection Commission and the Hawaii Bar Association about the adverse ruling.

Perhaps some of the strongest support for Bissen came from former state Judge Marie Milks, who said she reviewed the appellate court case that criticized Bissen. "There is nothing in the appellate decision that causes me to conclude that Mr. Bissen conducted himself in an unethical manner or to suggest that he lacks the competence and integrity to serve as a judge," Milks said in written testimony.

Former Appellate Court Judge Walter Heen wrote praising Bissen, saying his conduct was not something to hurt his chances of being a judge. Heen, former chairman of the state Democratic Party, said Bissen's qualifications "are undisputed."

Also speaking in Bissen's favor was Boyd Mossman, now an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, who was the state judge who heard the case in which Bissen was accused of acting improperly. "His roots are Hawaiian through and through, and he can understand the needs and conditions of the forlorn as well as those who would appear forgone," Mossman said.

Also supporting Bissen was Earl Anzai, former state attorney general under former Gov. Ben Cayetano. "He is strong but fair. Compassionate but not easily fooled," Anzai said.

After yesterday's hearing, Hanabusa said she had concerns about Bissen's record.

Last year, Hanabusa had recommended that former Lingle Cabinet member Ted Hong be confirmed to a Hilo court seat, but Hong was rejected by the Senate.

Hong and Lingle said the vote was political, with Democrats voting down a GOP nominee.

But with Bissen, who has worked for both Republicans and Democrats on Maui, there is strong support from the three Maui senators, who are all Democratic.

Bissen's confirmation is expected to go to the floor Tuesday for a vote by the 25-member Senate.

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com