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Does Hawaiʻi Need More Diversity, Experience in the Court System?

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Gov. David Ige’s recent judicial appointment to the Hawaiʻi Intermediate Court of Appeals is prompting questions about the role of experience and diversity in decision making.

Ige chose Daniel Gluck, former head of the Hawaiʻi State Ethics Commission, from a pool of six candidates to fill a vacancy on the Intermediate Court of Appeals. When it comes to experience in court, Gluck had 13 cases, while all other candidates had more than 100. And that concerned Native Hawaiian Attorney Camille Kalama.

“I don’t think that I would say that individually the nominees are bad people, but how can you look at the numbers and say, was this really the best choice for the ICA at this time?” Kalama said.

Gluck did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Senate Judiciary Chair Karl Rhoads, who is overseeing Gluck’s confirmation hearing, said there are no criteria in the statute or in the state constitution about what the Senate is supposed to consider.

“For me personally, I do look at courtroom experience, but I think you have to look at the lawyer’s overall experience,” Rhoads said. “The lawyers that have the most court experience are criminal lawyers because many more criminal cases go to trial than civil cases.”

Rhoads says the lack of courtroom experience could be a factor in the Hawaiʻi State Bar Association’s evaluation, which carries a lot of weight in the Senate confirmation process.

Ige selected Gluck from a shortlist vetted by the state Judicial Selection Commission, which included four women, three of whom are Native Hawaiian, and two men, one Filipino and one white.

The choice to appoint a white male over other more diverse candidates with more courtroom experience was disturbing for University of Hawaiʻi Law Professor Troy Andrade.

“There are currently no Native Hawaiian justices on the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court or judges on the Intermediate Court of Appeals. There are no Filipinos or Pacific Islanders. I’m unaware of any Black judge in the entire system,” Andrade said.

Ige said in a statement that representation on the courts should be reflective of the community, but that he struggles with the reality that many more men apply for judicial vacancies than women, and fewer applicants are people of under-represented ethnicities.

An analysis of judicial appointments during Ige’s administration found on average 71% of appointments were male, and 71% were white or American of Japanese ancestry.

Rhoads said these numbers are concerning, but reflective of the overall demographic make-up of Hawaiʻi’s legal community.

Senate Judiciary Vice Chair Jarrett Keohokālole said he’s interested in hearing what the rest of the legal community is saying or not saying because a judicial appointment to the ICA comes with a significant amount of power and influence in the administration of justice.

“They are kind of the gatekeeper. The major cases that we’ve seen in the past on water rights, criminal justice, the environment, Maunakea, those things often need to go to an appeal before the ICA before they proceed to the Supreme Court," Keohokālole said. “That’s why it’s incumbent on us to make sure that we do a responsible evaluation of the nominees.”

Keohokālole said it's important that these institutions maintain trust and credibility with the public, who see the process as fair and representative of the best interests of the community.

This is especially important in Hawaiʻi, Kalama said, where judges are appointed instead of elected by the people they serve.

“There’s a real responsibility there to look at the whole picture, and say who are on these courts? Who’s making decisions that affect the people?” Kalama told Hawaiʻi Public Radio. “I really think it comes down to trust, trust the community has in this system.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on Ige’s judicial nominees for Tuesday at 11 a.m.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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