Search for new justice begins


POSTED: Thursday, October 16, 2008

The process of selecting a replacement for Associate Justice Steven Levinson, who will retire Dec. 31, will now get under way as members of the legal community yesterday applauded his years of service on the bench.

While it is too early to say who will get the job, one key senator predicts it will be someone with a prosecutorial background.

Philip Hellreich, vice chairman of the Judicial Selection Commission, said the commission plans to act as soon as it can, but the length of the process could be determined by the number of applicants.

“;We're going to take as long as it takes to give the governor the six best choices,”; he said.

Lingle must appoint a replacement from a list submitted by the commission, which can begin the process now that Levinson announced his plans to leave the bench.

Hellreich said the upcoming vacancy will be advertised, candidates will have three weeks to notify the commission they will be applying and another four weeks to submit their applications.

The nine-member commission will review the applications, but Hellreich said the length of that process will depend on the number of applicants.

Lingle's appointment is subject to Senate approval, but if Lingle makes her choice early enough, the senators could meet prior to the opening of the legislative session on Jan. 21, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa said.

Levinson, 62, said this week he plans to retire at the end of the year, more than three years before the end of his second 10-year term.

“;In a nutshell, my batteries need recharging,”; he said.

The early retirement comes as a shock because many members of the legal community assumed the politically liberal Levinson would remain on the bench after the Republican governor's second and final four-year term, which expires in December 2010.

His early departure from the $159,072-a-year position allows Lingle to replace him.

State Public Defender Jack Tonaki said he was disappointed.

“;I'm very saddened to lose a jurist like Justice Levinson, who has always been willing to listen carefully to our arguments and consider them seriously,”; Tonaki said.

Attorney General Mark Bennett said Levinson should be commended for nearly 17 years on the high court and three years on the Circuit Court bench.

Bennett said he and Levinson differed on philosophy, but his “;decisions and their logic were consistent with the philosophy he espoused.”;

The attorney general said he will not apply for the vacancy.

City Prosecutor Peter Carlisle said Levinson is an “;impressive legal scholar,”; but said from a prosecutor's perspective, “;it's been somewhat of a mixed bag.”;

“;His philosophy is not that of a prosecutor,”; Carlisle said.

But Carlisle added that he knows Levinson professionally and has been with him at social gatherings. “;Justice Levinson has an entertaining and well-developed sense of humor,”; Carlisle said.

Hanabusa, a lawyer and head of the state Senate, which will still be controlled by Democrats following next month's election, said Levinson is owed a “;debt of gratitude”; for his years of service.

“;For myself, he will leave a great void,”; she said. “;I've always thought Justice Levinson was a very thoughtful and scholarly justice,”; she said.

She said the impact of his departure will depend on one's philosophy about courts.

Hanabusa said she has no idea who will apply or who will get the job, but said she thinks it is going to be “;someone with a prosecutor background.”;

Jeffrey Sia, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, said the replacement could have a “;different judicial philosophy or outlook”; from Levinson, who has been characterized as a “;liberal jurist.”;

“;It might not be enough for a definite change, but it could lead in that direction,”; he said.

Lingle has already named to the Circuit Court and the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals appointees with prosecutorial backgrounds. Many of them are expected to apply for Levinson's position.

Lingle could not be reached for comment yesterday, but she has said she wants to see a “;Judiciary that really interprets the laws that elected people pass rather than try to make law as a judge.”;

Lingle has appointed James Duffy to the five-member high court. She also is expected to replace Chief Justice Ronald Moon, who must leave the bench at age 70 in 2010 because of the mandatory retirement law. Lingle's tenure will end later that year.