BY JIM DOOLEY AND MALIA ZIMMERMAN –Politically influential local attorney Andrew Winer is at the top of the three-name list of nominees to fill a federal court judicial vacancy here, Hawaii Reporter has learned.
Winer directed President Barack Obama’s Hawaii election campaign in 2008 and later took a position in the Obama administration, serving as Director of External Affairs in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
He resigned that position and returned to Hawaii earlier this year. He is currently working as a lead strategist for Congresswoman Mazie Hirono’s U.S. Senate Campaign. He’s also been the lead strategist on the campaign of U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka and former Council Member Duke Bainum.
A vacancy opens on the U.S. District Court bench here later this month when Judge David Ezra moves to Senior Judge status.
A federal Judicial Selection Commission headed by private attorney Lawrence Okinaga interviewed prospective candidates for the judge’s job here and forwarded a list of three qualified nominees to U.S. Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, it was learned.
Those names were then reportedly forwarded to the White House for final selection.
The other two candidates are Derrick Watson, head of the Civil Division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office here, and Milton Yasunaga, a private attorney with the Cades Schutte law firm.
None of the three could be reached for comment today.
Inouye spokesman Peter Boylan said, “We cannot comment on confidential judicial proceedings.”
Okinaga did not respond to a request for comment.
The White House has not submitted the name of a nominee yet to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must confirm judicial appointments.
Several sources expressed doubts about Winer’s short-term chances of winning confirmation from the Senate, given that body’s virtual partisan gridlock over judicial nominations.
Numerous names submitted to the Judiciary Committee by President Obama have been awaiting Senate action for six months or more. One has been pending for more than a year.
Critics of Obama have noted that the president has been slow to submit names of judicial candidates to the Senate.
According to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, there are 74 judicial vacancies in federal courts around the country and 30 nominations are pending at the Senate.
Another 30 vacancies will open between now and January 2013, including the Ezra slot, which opens June 27, according to judiciary statistics.
Obama has named only one appointee to fill any of those upcoming vacancies.
Given Winer’s overt political support of the president and of other Democratic Party politicians in Hawaii, some legal observers say Republican senators would be unlikely to act on his nomination before the presidential election in November.