Reason I Nominated Judge Kate Leonard for Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Position

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BY GOVERNOR LINDA LINGLE – Nominating someone to be the next Chief Justice of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court is a responsibility and privilege I have thought deeply about over the past 30 days.

I want to thank the Judicial Selection Commission for forwarding to me a list of extremely qualified candidates, and I want to thank the candidates for being willing to serve the people of Hawai‘i in such a demanding and important leadership position.


I also want to thank members of the interview panel:  Attorney General Mark Bennett, Chief of Staff Barry Fukunaga, Senior Policy Advisor Linda Smith, and Department of Transportation Deputy Director and attorney Mike Formby, for the many days they have joined me in interviews with and discussions about the candidates. Their opinions and insights have helped me make this important and historic decision.

Although I have been privileged to make many appointments during my two terms as governor, this is by far the most important and long-lasting appointment I have made during the last eight years.

The Chief Justice is the administrative head of the third branch of government and appoints all of Hawai‘i’s district and family court judges. The Chief Justice also sets the tone for jurisprudence in our state.

The first two responsibilities are obviously important, but the third is critical. It is crucial that the jurisprudence of our Supreme Court reflects the rule of law, and reflects respect for a fundamental principle inherent in our democracy—that we rely on three co-equal branches of government.

The person I have chosen to nominate has all the qualities necessary to make a great Chief Justice—steadfast character, a strong intellect, great writing skills, and a true commitment to the rule of law.

It is with great pleasure that I announce today my nomination of Intermediate Court of Appeals Associate Judge Katherine Leonard to be Hawai‘i’s next Chief Justice of the Hawai‘i Supreme Court.

Judge Leonard has been on the ICA since 2008. Prior to that she was a litigation partner with the law firm of Carlsmith Ball where she concentrated on civil litigation, including real estate, commercial, trust, and environmental law.

She is a graduate of the William S. Richardson School of Law, where she was the Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review. Judge Leonard’s appointment would mark the first time a graduate of the University of Hawai‘i’s William S. Richardson School of Law would serve on the Supreme Court.

In addition, Judge Leonard would become the first woman in Hawai‘i’s history to be named Chief Justice.

These are both important firsts, and I know Kate would be cognizant not only of her obvious place in state history, but of her obligation to perform at the very highest level.

But just as the voters of Hawai‘i didn’t elect me because I was a woman, I didn’t pick Kate because she was a woman. I picked her because of the person she is, because of the judge she has proven to be, and because of the outstanding Chief Justice I believe she will become.

Kate Leonard is a woman of character of whom her family, colleagues, and friends are justifiably proud. She will be a Chief Justice of whom I and all of Hawai‘i will become justifiably proud.

I present to you Judge Kate Leonard.