BY LAURA BROWN –A Senate Judiciary Committee hearing convened today to review Gov. Linda Lingle’s nomination of Associate Justice Mark Recktenwald to replace Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon on the Hawaii State Supreme Court.
Nearly all who testified at today’s hearing at the State Capitol did so in support of Recktenwald, with the exception of Atty. Daphne Barbee-Wooten. She cited 2 cases where she felt Recktenwald’s Circuit Court opinions went backwards on constitutional rights.
“Don’t just put a lei on and smile. This process should not just be a walk in the park,” she said.
She also felt that a judge that had served longer and written more opinions might have been the better choice and that the reason more people didn’t speak up against Recktenwald’s nomination was fear of retaliation.
Atty. Rod Maile, a Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs hearings officer, testified that Recktenwald is not vindictive and is not the kind of person who would ever punish anyone for disagreeing with him. Others agreed.
Brook Hart, a criminal defense attorney and former Hawaii State Public Defender and Civil Rights Commissioner, testified, “One thing he will do is pay attention to the eroding support of ‘access to justice’ for accused persons and the inadequate funding of the public defender’s office.”
“Yes, some decisions are wrongly decided, but disagreement isn’t the issue. The issue is whether this man has the intellectual ability, skills and confidence to be Chief Justice. The answer from my perspective is a resounding “yes,” Hart said.
Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi said in his years of law practice on Oahu, he found Recktenwald to be “humble, respectful and warm.”
Hugh Jones, president of the Hawaii State Bar Association, said their organization found Recktenwald to be qualified.
This recommendation contrasted with the HSBA’s rejection earlier this month of the governor’s nominee Katherine Leonard, claiming that she was “unqualified,” although several attorneys commented that she is highly qualified.
The Senate then rejected Leonard by a vote of 14 to 8.
Many who testified commended Recktenwald for his past work as director of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.
“When Mark was at the DCCA, the time shrunk for permit application,” said Mark Moses, director of the Office of Veterans Services.
DCCA Director Ron Boyer also offered nothing but praise for Recktenwald’s stewardship of the department.
Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai) asked Recktenwald to respond to Barbee-Wooten’s criticisms. Recktenward thanked everyone for their testimony, including Barbee-Wooten.
“By testifying her disagreement, she is living to the highest ideals of the legal profession and for that I hold her in the highest regard.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Weds. Sept. 2 to vote on Recktenwald’s appointment.
Hawaii State Law requires judges to retire by their 70th birthday. Chief Justice Moon will retire before his 70th birthday on Sept. 4th.
Laura Brown is a Capitol reporter for Hawaii Reporter