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Hawaiian Prosecutor Appointed to Appeals Court Judge Vacancy

Sonja McCullen Headshot.jpg
Office of Gov. David Ige
Gov. David Ige has appointed City and County of Honolulu Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Sonja McCullen to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Gov. David Ige on Friday selected a Native Hawaiian prosecutor and former high school teacher for an appeals court judge vacancy after he initially appointed a white man who faced criticism over equitable racial and gender representation on the state’s highest courts.

The appointment of Sonja McCullen, a deputy Honolulu prosecuting attorney and former Waiʻanae High School teacher, is subject to state Senate confirmation.

McCullen was among six nominees for the Intermediate Court of Appeals on a list submitted to Ige by the state Judicial Selection Commission.

“It is with great honor and humility that I receive the appointment to the Intermediate Court of Appeals by Gov. Ige,” McCullen said. “If confirmed by the Senate, I will continue to work my hardest in this new role, with the same spirit of public service and aloha for Hawaiʻi and all its people.”

Ige initially selected Daniel Gluck, the executive director of the Hawaiʻi Ethics Commission, prompting the House Native Hawaiian Caucus to send Ige a letter saying there are “no native Hawaiian, Filipino, Pacific Islander, or African American judges at the Supreme Court or the ICA.”

Some critics said it’s been 30 years since a Native Hawaiian was appointed to the Intermediate Court of Appeals and 20 years since a Native Hawaiian was appointed to the state Supreme Court.

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary voted not to recommend the Senate consent to appointing Gluck.

Gluck attempted to withdraw his name from the confirmation process, but doing so would have created confusion over how the next appointment would be made. The Senate went ahead and voted not to consent to his appointment, which allowed the governor to make another appointment from the five remaining nominees.

McCullen has been a deputy prosecuting attorney for 11 years, most recently in the appellate division, Ige said in a news release announcing her appointment.

Previously, she was an investigator for the Crime Victim Commission, a staff attorney for United Public Workers, a judicial education specialist for the State of Hawaiʻi Judiciary, and a law clerk for the Hon. Paula A. Nakayama of the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court, according to the news release.

She was a social studies, Hawaiian studies and Hawaiian language teacher at Waiʻanae High School from August 1994 to July 1999, according to the governor's office.

McCullen studied at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and went on to earn her J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law.

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