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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 26, 2010

District Court nominee likely to be Kobayashi

By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Leslie E. Kobayashi

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Federal Magistrate-Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi will apparently be President Obama's nominee as U.S. District Court judge here, according to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's office.

"It is our understanding that Magistrate-Judge Kobayashi is the frontrunner for the nomination" to fill the judicial vacancy created when Chief District Judge Helen Gillmor moved to senior status last year, said Inouye staffer Jennifer Goto Sabas.

Kobayashi, 51, was on a list of three potential nominees submitted to the president by Inouye and fellow senator Daniel Akaka.

The others on the list were U.S. public defender Peter Wolff and state Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna.

Kobayashi is the only nominee undergoing an FBI background check, a necessary step before formal nomination, it was learned.

Kobayashi has served as a magistrate-judge here since 1999.

Magistrate-judges handle misdemeanor criminal cases and assist district judges in pretrial criminal and civil matters.

Kobayashi was first appointed as a magistrate in 1999 and was reappointed to another eight-year term in 2007.

She received her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and is a graduate of the Boston College School of Law.

Kobayashi served as a Honolulu deputy prosecuting attorney and worked in private practice for 17 years at the law firm of Fujiyama Duffy & Fujiyama.

Kobayashi in 2002 authored a frequently cited legal decision on public access to federal court records that opened previously sealed documents in a civil lawsuit filed by a Honolulu police officer against HPD.

Records in the case, which HPD and city attorneys said should be kept from public view, raised "issues about the conduct of state and federal law enforcement officials" and were "of significant public concern," Kobayashi ruled.

That decision was appealed by the city but the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Kobayashi in 2006.

The appellate decision lauded Kobayashi's "exhausting if not exhaustive" review of thousands of pages of records filed in the case and her rulings on which records should be open for public inspection.

Kobayashi's nomination to the District Court bench, President Obama's first judicial appointment in his home state, would be subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Obama has been making judicial nominations at a slow pace since taking office last year, and Senate deliberations on those nominations have also been slow.

Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, complained about "delay and obstruction" tactics by Republican members of the committee.

"During the first two years of President Bush's time in office," Leahy said, "the Democratic Senate majority proceeded to confirm 100 of his judicial nominees. By contrast, Senate Republicans have allowed only 15 of President Obama's federal circuit and district court nominees to be acted upon by the Senate."