Hawaii state senators will convene in a special session on Tuesday, August 6, to vote on whether to confirm James Ashford as the next Honolulu District Court Judge.
Ashford was nominated by Supreme Court Justice Mark Recktenwald, and backed by the Hawaii Bar Association and the Hawaii Judiciary. Testimony for Ashford was 100 percent favorable and his nomination was supported by some of the most prominent retired judges and attorneys in town.
That is until Honolulu attorney James Wright submitted testimony just hours before Friday’s hearing, criticizing Ashford for his ethics and actions involving one of Wright’s clients six years prior.
Wright shared critique only with Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee Chair Clayton Hee, and never showed up at either the Friday confirmation hearing, or the follow up hearing on Monday, so other senators on the committee to question his story.
Wright donated a substantial amount of money to Hee in previous campaign years.
Wright also is the attorney for Hawaiian Princess Abigail Kawānanakoa, a political ally and generous campaign donor of Hee.
Hee did not disclose either fact publicly during the two days of hearings.
Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kapahulu, led the charge against Ashford’s nomination on Monday, questioning him about Wright’s allegations and why Ashford didn’t dedicate more of his time to volunteering in the community.
Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, a member of the committee, spoke in strong support of Ashford. Slom noted the unanimity of testimony to Ashford’s character, integrity, experience and judicial temperament and dismissed the “unsubstantiated claim” by Wright as “much ado about nothing.”
Sen. Malama Solomon, D-Hawaii Island, defended Ashford in the Monday hearing and said lawmakers needed to look at the whole person.
Solomon, a businesswoman and rancher who is known for her straightforwardness, also criticized a Hawaii Bar Association requirement for attorneys to perform probono service, and maintained it was absurd to debate whether Ashford has performed substantial probono service when legislators don’t have such a rule.
Solomon said all professionals in Hawaii donate their time and expertise in responding to calls for help from other people, even though it might not be classified as community service by the bar association.
Solomon is a new member of the Judiciary and Labor Committee along with Majority Leader Brickwood Galuteria.
Hee had insisted on increasing the size of his committee from 5 members to 7 this summer because previously he ran the risk of committee members outvoting him on controversial positions he took on such legislation as killing the journalism shield bill and thwarting other judicial nominations.
In the end, the 7-member committee voted to advise and consent to the nominee with Ihara casting a yes vote with reservations. The full 25 member Senate will vote on Ashford’s confirmation on Tuesday.
If confirmed, Ashford, a partner in the Honolulu-based Cades Schutte law firm who specializes in real estate disputes, employment law, construction disputes, condominium disputes, trust and estate litigation, and school law, will be a district judge, an entry level for judges.
According to Ashford’s biography, he has tried more than 20 cases in state and federal court and regularly represents his clients in arbitrations, mediations, and agency investigations.