News Briefs

Leonard Rejected, Lingle Fumes
The strange saga of Judge Katherine Leonard came to a close last week, as the state Senate rejected Gov. Lingle’s Chief Justice nominee. The vote came after the Hawaii State Bar Association’s board of directors deemed Leonard unqualified, an assessment Lingle blasted as “outrageous.” The fact that Leonard would have been Hawaii’s first female Chief Justice only fanned the flames, and the whole thing quickly devolved into another “Lingle versus the legislature” pissing contest.

“The 14 senators who voted down Judge Leonard’s confirmation represent the height of hypocrisy, given that earlier this year they all voted for a resolution calling on me to appoint more women to the bench,” Lingle sniffed. She was referring to SR26, which “urges the Governor to use and consider gender equality when appointing judges.” Republican Sen. Fred Hemmings, who voted to approve Leonard, also referenced SR26, reportedly telling his female colleagues who voted for the resolution, “You have a chance today to achieve your goals.” (Speaking of hypocrisy, Hemmings voted against SR26.)

Lost amid the squabbling and veiled accusations of sexism was any cogent analysis of Leonard’s qualifications and judicial style. Did all 14 of the Senators who voted against her really do so because of gender bias and/or a vendetta against Lingle? Let’s turn to Maui’s own Sen. Roz Baker, who spoke on the Senate floor before the Leonard vote: “It is with regret and sadness that I find I must [oppose] the nomination of Katherine Leonard as Chief Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court…. By all accounts [Leonard] has been an able jurist during her short tenure on the Intermediate Court of Appeals. She is deemed very bright, writes well and is considered a very capable legal analyst. But the duties and responsibilities of the Chief Justice require more than just having a good legal mind. It requires the ability to manage and effectively administer the third branch of government…. I believe the Judiciary is at a crossroads. It needs an insightful, well-rounded, capable and proven leader. I know this is not an easy vote. However, after weighing the testimony from the hearing, speaking with others who called my office, came by or communicated with identification by e-mail, and more importantly after spending time reviewing Judge Leonard’s CV, work experiences and after having an in-depth discussion with her, I have concluded that she is indeed a fine ICA judge and we were correct to confirm her to that position. However, for the position of Chief Justice, she does not, at this time, have the requisite skills, experiences, abilities and knowledge of the admin side of the equation to lead the Judiciary at this critical juncture.” Sexist!

Council Punts On Election Reform
Asking an elected official to change the system under which he or she was elected is a tall order. Too tall, apparently, for the Maui County Council, which voted 6-3 to send a redistricting proposal to the Charter Commission next year rather than putting the question to voters in November.

Currently, Councilmembers from nine “residency areas” of vastly different size and population are elected by all county voters. Under a plan formulated by the West Maui Charter Working Group and introduced as a potential ballot question by Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson, the map would be redrawn with nine single-member districts of roughly equal population, and voters within the districts would vote only for their respective Council reps. Proponents say the system will benefit voters, who often don’t know enough about candidates from other parts of the county to make an informed decision, as well as candidates, who can save resources by running localized campaigns. Opponents, including some current Councilmembers, say it’ll disenfranchise rural outliers like Lanai and Molokai, which may end up with no representation on the Council. Of course, as attorney Lance Collins, who works with the West Maui Charter Working Group, pointed out during testimony, residents in those areas would actually make up a much larger percentage of the total votes in a single-member district than they currently do in a countywide election. Put simply: the current system guarantees Lanai and Molokai residents will sit on the Council, but it doesn’t guarantee they’ll be the candidates Lanai and Molokai residents support.

In the end, Councilmembers Gladys Baisa and Joe Pontanilla joined Johnson, but it wasn’t enough. The only other way to get a charter amendment on the ballot is to collect the signatures of 20 percent of registered voters, a huge task, especially this late in the game. Unless that happens, the soonest voters could have a say is 2012, and that’s only if the Charter Commission takes action, which is far from certain. Testifier Norm Bezane may have summed it up best: “Sometimes in our county, we have a tendency to study things to death.”

Recycling Rate Down, Fee Unchanged
After climbing steadily since 2006, Hawaii’s recycling rate fell slightly last fiscal year according to figures released by the Department of Health (DOH). In 2009, the return rate for the state’s HI-5 program was 79 percent; in 2010, that number dropped to 76 percent. That’s still more than enough to trigger an automatic increase of the 1 cent “container fee,” a non-refundable tax charged on top of the 5 cent deposit. By law, if the return rate is above 70 percent, the container fee goes up half a cent. Basically, if a lot of people recycle their cans and bottles—the ostensible aim of the program—they’re taxed more heavily.

OK, here’s the good news: per a DOH release, after “evaluation of the current deposit beverage special fund balance, and consultation with the legislative auditor, the director of health has determined that the container fee will remain at one cent per container.” Just don’t let that rate go above 80 percent and we should be fine.