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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 23, 2003

Top jurists represent diverse backgrounds

 •  Supreme Court struggles as cases, criticism pile up
 •  Justices must juggle reviews, administrative tasks
 • Chart: Tracking appeals in Hawai'i's court system

By Lynda Arakawa
Adveritser Capitol Bureau

Chief Justice
Ronald T.Y. Moon

Born: Sept. 4, 1940 in Honolulu

Term: 1993-2003, 2003-2013*

Education: University of Iowa, juris doctorate; Coe College, bachelor's degrees in psychology and sociology; Mid-Pacific Institute.

Legal career: Associate and partner, Libkuman, Ventura, Moon and Ayabe, 1968-82; city deputy prosecutor, 1966-68; law clerk for U.S. District Court Chief Judge Martin Pence, 1965-66.

Judicial career: Appointed Hawai'i Supreme Court chief justice by Gov. John Waihee, 1993; appointed associate justice by Waihee, 1990; appointed circuit judge by Gov. George Ariyoshi, 1982.

Family: Married; three children and three stepchildren.

Interesting fact: During his clerkship with Pence, Moon once climbed into a trash bin outside the federal court building to look for a lost jury verdict form. The search was unsuccessful, but Moon later learned Pence had a copy in his office.

It was almost a fluke that Ronald Moon went into law.

After having taken little interest in school — he attended three different high schools — Moon wound up at college in Iowa, where a talk with a cousin attending law school and experiences of racial discrimination would pique his interest in the law.

Years later he would become Hawai'i's fourth Supreme Court chief justice since statehood and the first Korean American in the country to serve on a state supreme court.

Moon, who has a background as a prosecutor and as a defender of business and insurance companies, has been considered by some to have a conservative bent. But the former Republican dismisses labels.

He noted that attending church about three times a week as he was growing up made the 1993 same-sex marriage case a "real struggle for me." He was among the three justices who questioned the constitutionality of state laws banning same-sex marriage.

Moon, who has a penchant for telling a joke or two during judicial swearing-in ceremonies, has written his share of high-profile and controversial opinions.

He wrote the unanimous ceded- lands opinion in September 2001, which dismissed the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs' 1994 lawsuit seeking ceded-lands revenues, kicking the issue back to the Legislature.

Moon also wrote the 2002 opinion that Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris could remain in office until the candidate filing deadline, overturning a Circuit Court ruling that Harris should have resigned when he filed campaign organizational papers.

The chief justice also wrote a 1997 opinion allowing employees who suffer stress from disciplinary actions for misconduct to collect workers' compensation. The next year the Legislature passed a bill banning such claims for nonunion employees when the action was taken in "good faith" by the employer.

• • •

Simeon R. Acoba Jr.

Born: March 11, 1944 in Honolulu

Term: 2000-2010

Education: Northwestern University School of Law, juris doctorate; University of Hawai'i, bachelor's degree; Farrington High School.

Legal career: Private practice, 1973-80; House majority staff attorney, 1975; state deputy attorney general, 1971-73; law clerk to Hawai'i Supreme Court Chief Justice William Richardson, 1969-70.

Judicial career: Appointed Hawai'i Supreme Court associate justice by Gov. Ben Cayetano, 2000; appointed Intermediate Court of Appeals associate judge by Gov. John Waihee, 1994; appointed Circuit Court judge by Gov. George Ariyoshi, 1980; part-time District Court judge, 1979-80

Family: Married; three children

Interesting fact: As a UH student senator in the 1960s, Acoba was instrumental in organizing a civil-rights symposium that brought Martin Luther King Jr., Congress of Racial Equality co-founder James Farmer and others to the university.

Simeon Acoba often is seen as the justice who shook things up at the Hawai'i Supreme Court, a jurist who isn't afraid to publicly challenge others, even if he is speaking out alone.

Acoba said he has no problem agreeing with other justices, pointing out that the court has reached unanimous decisions on many cases. Still, lawyers have noticed more dissenting and particularly more pointed opinions since Acoba joined the court in 2000.

"If you wanted unanimity, the best way to achieve that is to have a one-justice court," said Acoba, who drinks tea from a mug that says "No More Mr. Nice Guy."

"The reason I think you have a multimember court is that you want different perspectives brought on particular disputes because there are different faces to every dispute and you want all sides to be examined so that the best opinion or result can be achieved."

Some also consider him to be of a liberal bent. As a Circuit Court judge he was strongly criticized by then-Honolulu prosecutor Charles Marsland, but defended by Ben Cayetano, then a state senator who would later appoint him to the Hawai'i Supreme Court.

While many lawyers find Acoba to be soft-spoken, personable and warm — he has been known to walk his female law clerks to their cars when it's late — others describe him as caustic and difficult, a lone wolf who doesn't know how to pick battles.

Acoba, who was senior class president at Farrington High School, said it doesn't matter whether he agrees or disagrees with those characterizations.

"My focus is trying to do the best job I can, and people will judge other people — that's fine," he said. "That's just the human experience. I don't try to be difficult, I certainly don't intend to be difficult, but I will do what I feel I need to do."

• • •

James E. Duffy Jr.

Born: June 4, 1942 in St. Paul, Minn.

Term: 2003-2013*

Education: Marquette University Law School, juris doctorate; College of St. Thomas, bachelor's degree; Cretin High School in St. Paul, Minn.

Legal career: Private practice from 1968-2003, senior partner in law firm of Fujiyama, Duffy & Fujiyama from 1975 to 2000; associate, Chuck & Fujiyama, 1971-74; associate, Cobb & Gould, 1968-71.

Judicial career: Appointed associate justice by Gov. Linda Lingle, 2003.

Family: Married; two children

Interesting fact: Avid horseman who has served as president of the Hawai'i Cowhorse Championships, Inc., judge of the Hawai'i High School Rodeo Association, and adviser to the Honolulu Police Department's mounted unit.

Any negative word about Jim Duffy almost seems to be sacrilege among legal circles in this town.

The newest member of the court and the former Hawai'i State Bar Association president is the only justice who has not served as a judge. But supporters say he is well-qualified by his 35 years in private practice that includes plaintiff and defense trial work in civil and criminal matters, as well as his background in mediation and arbitration. He was known for representing politicians and others who got in trouble.

And, lawyers say, Duffy's so nice it's almost hard to believe he's an attorney.

"He's smart as a whip and the kind of lawyer that will slice your case apart with a surgeon's skill if you're not careful, but he'll do it in such a nice way that you can't get mad at him," said former Hawai'i State Bar Association president James Kawachika.

In making her first appointment to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, Gov. Linda Lingle looked for someone who could bring a "good demeanor" to the court and who would interpret law rather than make it.

The governor apparently saw those qualities in Duffy, who told senators during his confirmation hearing: "I do not believe in legislating from the bench."

Duffy, who was senior partner at the law firm of Fujiyama, Duffy & Fujiyama, was a protege and partner to the late Wallace Fujiyama, a close friend of former Gov. Ben Cayetano and other prominent Democrats and a political power broker.

Duffy also reviewed operations at Kamehameha Schools Bishop Estate in the early 1990s as a special master and concluded in a report that education had become a secondary priority to the estate's finances. He also served as lead attorney for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs in its litigation against the state in the ceded lands revenue case.

• • •

Steven H. Levinson

Born: June 8, 1946 in Cincinnati

Term: 1992-2002, 2002-2012

Education: University of Michigan Law School, juris doctorate; Stanford University, bachelor's degree in political science; Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati.

Legal career: Associate and partner, Damon, Key, Bocken, Leong and Kupchak, 1977-89; Schutter, Levinson and O'Brien, 1972-76; law clerk for uncle, Hawai'i Supreme Court associate justice Bernard Levinson, 1971-72.

Judicial career: Appointed Hawai'i Supreme Court associate justice by Gov. John Waihee, 1992; appointed Circuit Court judge by Waihee, 1989.

Family: Married; two children.

Interesting fact: A cinema fan who hosts "movie nights" at his home for his law clerks, Levinson has more than 500 videos and DVDs in his collection.

When Steven Levinson was appointed by Gov. John Waihee to the Hawai'i Supreme Court in 1992, he described himself as a child of the 1960s with a tendency to "reach out and grab issues, rather than duck them."

But the justice said since then he has grown "substantially more restrained," saying his propensity to resolve every conceivable issue in any given appeal contributed to a personal backlog of 110 cases in 1996.

"Since 1996 I've learned that even though that might be the way to go in a perfect world where one had all the resources one needed, that in our imperfect world, and in our under-resourced institution, that is a recipe for disaster," Levinson said.

"And so I have become much more restrained with respect to what it is necessary to decide in order to answer the questions that are raised on appeal and ... I've learned that the opportunity will come in another appeal to answer the questions you don't have to answer now."

Levinson considers himself politically liberal, although he said political ideology is irrelevant in judicial matters. Still, many observers consider him to be the liberal backbone of the court, largely because of the 1993 landmark majority opinion he wrote declaring the state's ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional unless the state can justify the prohibition.

Levinson, known for writing scholarly opinions some say are too long (some call him The Professor), also wrote a 110-page dissent to a 1998 decision that affirmed a man's petty misdemeanor marijuana conviction and declared that privacy rights don't allow people to possess and use marijuana for recreation. Levinson wrote that the marijuana possession law violates the constitutional right of privacy and that he would have thrown out the conviction.

• • •

Paula A. Nakayama

Born: Oct. 19, 1953 in Honolulu

Term: 1993-2003, 2003-2013

Education: Hastings College of Law, juris doctorate; University of California at Davis, bachelor's degree in consumer economics; Blackford High School in San Jose.

Legal career: Associate and partner, Shim, Tam, Sigal and Naito, 1982-92; city deputy prosecutor, 1979-82.

Judicial career: Appointed Hawai'i Supreme Court associate justice by Gov. John Waihee, 1993; appointed Circuit Court judge by Waihee, 1992.

Family: Married; two children

Interesting fact: The second woman to serve on the Hawai'i Supreme Court. Rhoda V. Lewis was appointed to the Hawai'i Supreme Court in 1959 and retired in 1967.

She's described as a master of procedure who has sometimes been the swing vote on the five-member court.

Paula Nakayama reached the Hawai'i Supreme Court bench in 1993 on a fast track, having gone from city deputy prosecutor to private attorney to circuit judge to the high court in 14 years.

Nakayama also was notably young, 39, when she was appointed to the state's highest court.

Nakayama is recognized in the legal community largely for writing the 2000 majority opinion rejecting part of the state water commission's landmark decision that divided Waiahole Ditch water between Windward and Leeward O'ahu. The 166-page opinion reaffirmed the state's commitment to the public trust doctrine, "to protect, control and regulate the use of Hawai'i's water resources for the benefit of its people."

Nakayama also is known for her 1996 opinion that ruled policyholders can sue insurance companies if the companies acted in "bad faith" for delaying payment of claims.

That opinion is one Nakayama "can chalk up in her hall of fame," said former Hawai'i Supreme Court associate justice Robert Klein.

"She has, I think, grown into her role on the Hawai'i Supreme Court," he said. "She started very young, and I think being a woman on the court had additional pressure on her when she started. I think she handled it very well."

Born in Hawai'i and raised in California, Nakayama is married to Charles Totto, executive director of the Honolulu Ethics Commission.