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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 28, 2010

Moon: Courts can't cut any more

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Chief Justice Ronald Moon presents his final State of the Judiciary address.

Photos by DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Ronald Moon, chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court, was applauded after his speech in the Senate by Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, left, and his wife, right.

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State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald T.Y. Moon warned yesterday that further state budget cuts could devastate domestic violence programs, drug court and other treatment programs, leaving victims vulnerable to more abuse and eventually costing the state more in court and prison expenses if offenders who go untreated commit new crimes.

Moon, in his final State of the Judiciary address before retiring, said the Judiciary lost 79 vacant staff positions, had a lump-sum decrease in operating expenses, and instituted a first-ever salary cut for judges to save $11.5 million. Staff furloughs that close the courts twice a month will save another $4.8 million this fiscal year and $7.6 million next fiscal year.

Moon told the state Legislature that the existing cuts cannot be sustained without serious consequences to the Judiciary's mission and to the public. The lack of resources, he said, is already "affecting public safety and the administration of justice."

Moon said the Judiciary would not be able to withstand any further cuts.

"We fully recognize the enormous and difficult task ahead of you this session," he said of the state's $1.2 billion budget deficit through June 2011. "We are hopeful that the measures we have taken thus far, including the furlough plan, not only demonstrate that we are partners with you in this crisis, but convince you that the Judiciary will not be able to withstand the devastating effects of any further cuts to its budget this session."

Moon praised the state's drug courts and the Hawai'i Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program as alternatives to traditional and more costly incarceration and probation. He also cited the success of Girls Court, an intervention program for young women to help them avoid crime and abuse as adults.

Moon also said the new Kapolei Court Complex, which has been a subject of controversy at the Legislature because of varying cost estimates, will open this spring. The complex includes a new juvenile detention facility.

Moon is the longest-serving and first Korean-American chief justice. He was sworn in in March 1993 after serving as an associate justice for three years and as a Circuit Court judge for eight years.

Moon will reach 70 this year, the mandatory retirement age for judges. He said he had mixed emotions about giving his last speech, but joked that he was "looking forward to joining my fellow retired judges and other judiciary employees at my neighborhood McDonald's in just 217 days."

State House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Pälolo Valley, Wilhelmina Rise), said Moon can retire with the knowledge that he has made the state "one that provides its citizens with protection, with opportunity, and with equality."

Gov. Linda Lingle will select Moon's replacement later this year from recommendations by the state's Judicial Selection Commission, an appointment that will be rigorously scrutinized by the state Senate, which has advise and consent responsibility.

The Republican governor has made two appointments to the five-member Supreme Court, associate justices James Duffy and Mark Recktenwald. A third appointment would mean that a majority of the justices would have been chosen by Lingle.