BY JIM DOOLEY

Attorneys, friends, colleagues and even former litigants expressed unanimous respect and affection for state Supreme Court nominee Judge Sabrina McKenna in a hearing today at the Legislature.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to refer McKenna’s name to the full Senate for confirmation.

Negative comments were received only from a few individuals who opposed the nomination because McKenna has openly stated that she is gay.

“I’m deeply honored and humbled to be considered to serve on the Hawaii Supreme Court,” McKenna told the committee.

McKenna became a District Court Judge in 1993 and has served as a Circuit Judge, Senior Judge of the Family Court, and substitute Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

“I have experience as a litigator, a law professor, a trial judge on all levels of the trial courts handling all the kinds of cases that an appellate justice is asked to review,” she testified.

“I believe I can hit the ground running and make a positive contribution to the court if confirmed by this body,” McKenna told the committee.

Retired Associate Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson told the committee: “In my opinion, Judge McKenna exhibits all of the attributes that are required of a trial and appellate court judge.”

No member of the Judiciary “is more deserving” of elevation to the state high court, Levinson said.

Committee chair Sen. Clayton Hee, D-23rd, (Kahuku, Laie, Kaaawa, Kaneohe) said of McKenna, “Personally, I couldn’t be happier or prouder to vote in support of your nomination.”

Last week, Hee, discussing pending legislation that would permit civil unions between gay couples, cited McKenna as an individual who would benefit from the bill.

Committee member Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th, (Hawaii Kai, Aina Haina, Kahala, Diamond Head),  later objected to Hee’s introduction of McKenna’s name in the civil union debate.

McKenna told the committee that she had permitted Hee to use her name in his comments, but that after she saw news reports of Hee’s comments, she checked with the state Judicial Conduct Commission to see if she had acted appropriately.

The commission determined this week that she had violated no judicial ethical canons, McKenna said.

Slom, the only Republican member of the senate, joined his colleagues on the committee in supporting McKenna’s nomination.

“I think it was very unfortunate that other issues were brought into the discussion,” Slom said.

“I never looked at (McKenna) other than as a jurist, a person with immense qualifications,”  Slom said.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com