High court justice will be stepping down


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Steven Levinson, one of the most liberal justices on the five-member Hawaii Supreme Court, plans to retire Dec. 31, more than three years before the end of his term.






        The five justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court, their ages, the governor who appointed them and the end of their current 10-year terms*:


» Chief Justice Ronald Moon, 68, Gov. John Waihee, March 30, 2013.


» Steven Levinson, 62, Gov. Waihee, April 6, 2012.


» Paula Nakayama, 54, Gov. Waihee, April 21, 2013.


» Simeon Acoba, 64, Gov. Benjamin Cayetano, May 18, 2010.


» James Duffy, 66, Gov. Linda Lingle, June 6, 2013.


* Two justices must retire before the end of their terms under the state law that requires judges to retire at age 70. Moon turns 70 in September 2010 and Duffy turns 70 in June 2012.
Sources: State Judiciary, Hawaii State Bar Association



        Born: Cincinnati, in June 1946


Education: Bachelor's degree in political science from Stanford University, law degree from University of Michigan Law School.


Legal career: Clerked for his uncle, Associate Justice Bernard Levinson of the Hawaii Supreme Court, 1971-1972; Schutter Levinson & O'Brien, 1972-1976; Damon, Key, Bocken, Leong and Kupchak, 1977-1989.


Judicial career: Appointed by Gov. John Waihee as circuit judge, 1989-1992; appointed by Waihee to Hawaii Supreme Court, 1992. Judicial Selection Commission approved a second 10-year term in 2002.




Levinson, 62, said he made his decision to retire after nearly 17 years as a justice and three previous years as a circuit judge because he wants to relax and get ready for the next chapter in his life.

“;In a nutshell,”; he told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, “;my batteries need recharging.”;

The retirement comes as a shock to those who thought that the politically liberal Levinson, who was appointed by Democratic former Gov. John Waihee, would served out his term and give the next governor a chance to replace him.

“;Literally everyone has assumed I would serve out the second term, and everyone that I know about who learned about it the first time has been surprised,”; Levinson said.

With Levinson's early departure, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle will name his replacement, subject to Senate approval, from a list of candidates from the Judicial Selection Commission.

“;I'm not particularly concerned because I'm confident that my replacement will be highly qualified,”; Levinson said.

Levinson was appointed by Waihee to the high court in 1992 to a 10-year term and approved for a second 10-year term in 2002 by the Judicial Selection Commission.

The appointment will add to Lingle's growing legacy at the state Judiciary. She has already named more than a third of the 44 state judges and justices subject to appointment by the governor.

She named James Duffy to the high court, and is likely to replace Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who must leave the bench in 2010 at age 70 because of state mandatory retirement law.

Associate Justice Simeon Acoba's term also ends in May 2010, before Lingle leaves office, but it will be up to the Judicial Selection Commission to decide whether he will get another 10-year term.

It's likely too early to say who might be on the short list to replace Levinson, but Lingle has appointed four of the six judges on the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals, which could be a steppingstone to the high court.

But none of the Lingle appointees on the appeals court is known for views as liberal as Levinson, who once described himself as a “;child of the '60s”; who came of age during the turbulent days of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war.

Levinson, the most senior associate justice, serves as the acting chief justice when Moon is out of state. He will leave behind more than 229 published opinions.

His best-known decision is the landmark 1993 ruling that cleared the way to make Hawaii the first state in the country to recognize same-sex marriages. In 1998, voters approved a constitutional amendment that negated the decision.

But despite the amendment, Levinson's seminal ruling has been cited around the country, and Massachusetts, California and Connecticut courts have legalized same-sex marriages.

“;I've had a lot of fun on the job, and I've been lucky enough to be involved in at least one decision (same-sex marriage) that has literally changed the history of the world,”; he said. “;Not too many people have that opportunity, but if anything is certain, it is that everything evolves, life is evolution and change, and I've reached a point where I'm ready to pull down the curtains on this phase of my life.”;

Coupled with the three years as a circuit judge, Levinson will have served 20 years on the bench when he leaves.

He said his health is good and because he has reached maximum pension benefits, he won't have to worry about getting a high-paying job. He expects he'll be performing legal work for free, he said.

Levinson said Moon and others pressured him to serve out his term. His friendship with Moon dates to 1972, when Levinson first practiced law here. He calls Moon his “;metaphorical uncle, big brother, role model and mentor.”;

Moon said he developed a close friendship with Levinson over the years. The chief justice called Levinson an “;outstanding jurist consistently exhibiting those traits of integrity, civility, fairness, compassion and a high work ethic.”;

The chief justice said Levinson's retirement will be a “;great loss to the judiciary and the people of Hawaii.”;

“;I, along with his colleagues and fellow employees, will truly miss him,”; Moon said.

Levinson said he's saddened that he can't accommodate his friend.

“;But at some point, you gotta do what you gotta do, and I need some R and R (rest and recreation),”; he said.