Assistant U.S. Attorney Nominated To Serve As Next Federal Judge

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BY JIM DOOLEY – Assistant U.S. Attorney Derrick Kahala Watson has been nominated by President Obama to serve as Hawaii’s next federal judge.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Watson would be the first judge of Native Hawaiian ancestry to serve on the federal bench here since former Hawaii Chief District Judge Samuel King.


A graduate of Kamehameha Schools and Harvard Law School, Watson has been an assistant U.S. Attorney here since 2007 and currently serves as chief of the office’s civil division.

Watson is now in Washington D.C. and could not be reached for comment.

“It’s wonderful news for him, his family and for the state of Hawaii,” U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni said today.

The Hawaii State Bar Association’s website does not list Watson as a member of the local bar but says that he did take and pass the Hawaii bar examination in July of this year.

There is customarily a time lag between passage of the exam and acceptance into the bar association while paperwork and background material are submitted and processed.

HSBA executive director Patricia Mau-Shimizu said Watson has not yet been sworn in as a member of HSBA.

Names of individuals nominated to serve as state and federal judges are reviewed by the state bar but it’s not known if Watson’s delay in joining HSBA will play any role in that review.

“I don’t know if that will be raised,” Mau-Shimizu said.

Watson served in private practice and in the U.S. Attorney’s office in California before returning to Hawaii in 2007.

Federal court records show that he was a member of the California Bar Association when he was permitted to practice law in federal court here in 2007 by then-Dist. Judge Helen Gillmor.

U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye lauded Watson’s nomination.

“He consistently displayed exemplary legal acumen, integrity and fairness during his decade as a federal prosecutor in Northern California and Hawaii and that will serve him well on the Hawaii bench,” Inouye said in a written statement.

Watson was one of three attorneys found qualified to serve on the federal bench here earlier this year by a local Judicial Selection Commission headed by private attorney Lawrence Okinaga.

The list also included politically influential local attorney Andrew Winer as well as private attorney Milton Yasunaga.

Those names were sent to Sens. Inouye and Daniel Akaka and then forwarded to the White House for final selection.

 If approved by the Senate, Watson would replace Judge David Ezra, who became a Senior U.S. Judge in July.