Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, November 24, 2003

Relationship with Lingle thaws after a deep freeze

 •  Justice moves slowly, painfully
 •  Liberal or conservative? Court defies easy labels

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Gov. Linda Lingle and Hawai'i Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon had a rocky beginning during her first few months in office.

Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon was stunned by critical remarks Gov. Linda Lingle made in two instances not long after she took office.

Advertiser library photo

First, the governor made an embarrassing error in her State of the State address in January when, in commenting about the state's poor business atmosphere, she cited a Supreme Court ruling that didn't exist.

Then she told a group of federal judges and lawyers in April that she heard the high court was "dysfunctional" and rife with problems, including a case backlog, an absence of oral arguments, inconsistent rulings and a lack of collegiality among justices.

In an interview last week, Moon said he and the governor have since met and spoken on the phone several times and have moved past those incidents.

"The relationship has been cordial and pleasant and we are collaborating and cooperating on certain issues ... affecting the judiciary," Moon said.

But Lingle's public comments certainly challenged her new relationship with the chief justice.

When she delivered her attack on the high court in April, perhaps no one was more surprised than Moon.

"It was distressing; it was hard for me to hear person after person talk about our state Supreme Court in this fashion," Lingle said in her speech at a U.S. District Court conference luncheon.

"And to the extent that this is true, and I can tell from your body language that it is true, you are the only ones who can do something about it. You in the legal community."

The speech stunned Moon, and the two met later in the governor's office.

"I explained to her how taken aback I was," Moon said in an interview not long after the speech. "I told her that it really was a disappointment that she came out publicly to criticize us based on what she heard without getting my perspective first."

In an interview shortly after her speech, Lingle said the concerns she had heard "were so consistent that it motivated me to speak up publicly about them. Whether they were real or perceived or real to some extent, they have to be a concern.

"I don't usually check with people before I speak out on any subject," she said.

"I think he would, like anyone else in his position, he should welcome comments from outside," she said, referring to Moon. "He should recognize that it's very difficult for lawyers to speak in an objective way about the court because they may have to appear there and perhaps it's easier for someone like myself to speak out."

Some lawyers commended the governor for saying what the legal community was afraid to express, while others said her speech unfairly vilified the court while failing to offer any solutions.

Lingle said that because she is not a lawyer, it is up to the legal community to find solutions and police the judiciary.

Two of Lingle's advisers have been openly critical of the court. At the time of her speech Lingle's senior policy adviser was Randall Roth, who is not only the co-author of the 1997 "Broken Trust" essay that criticized the court's role in picking Bishop Estate trustees, but he and other "Broken Trust" authors opposed Supreme Court associate justice Steven Levinson's application for a second term in 2002.

Lingle has since made Roth her adviser in charge of education reform issues and some believe his ability to influence Lingle on court-related matters has been diminished.

State Attorney General Mark Bennett co-wrote a blistering 1998 essay about the court's decisions in criminal cases several years ago with Honolulu Prosecutor Peter Carlisle.

The speech last spring was the second time Lingle took public aim at the high court.

When talking about the state's poor business environment during her State of the State speech in January, she said the Hawai'i Supreme Court ruled that a worker fired for stealing could receive workers' compensation for the stress from the termination.

There was no such case.

Moon sat stone-faced on the stage behind Lingle during the address.

He said he later had his public information officer call the governor's office to obtain the citation of the case and was told Lingle's staff was searching for it.

Lingle called him later that day and before he said anything, told him she understood why he had called, acknowledged there was no such case and apologized, according to Moon.

The next day Lingle's office issued a news release saying the worker had been fired for insubordination, not for stealing. Lingle said she had "tremendous respect for the court, its justices and the work they perform on behalf of the people of Hawai'i."

Moon used the gaffe in his State of the Judiciary speech that day — with the governor sitting behind him — as an example of public misconceptions about the court system. He said whoever supplied the governor with that information was "totally wrong" but that he did not believe she meant to do any harm.

Lingle has not made any more public comments about the Supreme Court.

In a speech at the Hawai'i State Bar Association last month, a logical venue for any observations the governor might have had about the courts, she discussed mass transit and education issues.

Moon said he and the governor have "definitely" moved on.

"It's passed," he said last week. "It is something that is no longer interfering with our relationship."