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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hifo, Hirai to step down

by Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Circuit Judge Eden Hifo

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Circuit Judge Colleen Hirai

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The number of female state judges taking early retirement this year now totals five, with Circuit Judges Eden Hifo and Colleen Hirai the latest to step down.

Hifo, who was formerly known as Bambi Weil, was first appointed to the Circuit bench by Gov. John Waihee in 1993. Hirai was appointed by Waihee in 1994.

They were reappointed to 10-year terms in 2003 and 2004.

Hifo was a journalist on KGMB television, then attended the William S. Richardson Law School at the University of Hawai'i before working in private legal practice.

In 1998-99, she presided over the closely watched five-month trial on the removal of Lokelani Lindsey as a trustee of the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate.

That case ended with the judge's issuance of a blistering, 190-page decision on Lindsey's conduct as a trustee that ordered Lindsey's permanent removal from the trust.

Recently, Hifo presided over a monthlong trial concerning the trust obligations of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, ruling last month that the department must pay damages to more than 2,700 Native Hawaiians who were denied access to land by the department.

In a letter of resignation sent to the state Judicial Selection Commission, Hifo said she has served as a district and circuit judge for more than 22 years.

Her retirement is effective Dec. 31.

"My heart will always be with the Judiciary as an institution and the best of friends with whom I have worked there," she said in her letter.

Hirai's resignation is also effective at the end of this month.

She has spent many of her years on the bench presiding over probate matters and resolving disputes concerning wills, trusts and estates.

That work gave her oversight of the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate and other large land trusts in Hawai'i, including the Campbell Estate.

In 1999, Hirai ordered the removal of two Bishop Estate trustees, Henry Peters and Richard "Dickie" Wong, finding that they had breached their obligations to the trust.

As probate judge, Hirai has also been responsible for approving new trustees to run the Kamehameha Schools, one of the largest charitable institutions in the country.

Hirai yesterday declined comment.

The departures of Hifo and Hirai follow the early retirements this year of Circuit Judges Karen Blondin and Victoria Marks as well as Senior Family Court Judge Frances Wong.

Intermediate Court of Appeals Judge Corinne Watanabe is also stepping down at the end of the year.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Steven Levinson retired early at the end of last year, and Chief Justice Ronald Moon reaches mandatory retirement age next year.

All the vacancies give Gov. Linda Lingle an opportunity to leave an imprint on Hawai'i's courts long after her term of office expires next year.

Lingle names circuit and appellate judges from lists of nominees submitted to her by the Judicial Selection Commission. Lingle's appointees must be confirmed by the state Senate.