Hawaii House Judiciary Committee approves con amendment to release all names submitted by merit selection commission

A bill introduced in 2013 and previously discussed here to change the Hawaii merit selection system has seen new life in 2014. Under HB 420 as passed by the House Judiciary on January 23 and subject to a November 2014 vote, all names submitted by the state’s judicial selection commission to the governor or chief justice for selection would be released.

First, some background.

Hawaii has had some form of merit selection since 1959, with amendments in 1978 and 1994. Since at least the 1978 amendment there has been a provision in Art. VI, Sec. 4 that the “The deliberations of the [judicial selection] commission shall be confidential.” This had been interpreted to mean that the names submitted to the governor or chief justice (who picks the judges of the District Courts) would remain “confidential” as far as the judicial selection commission was concerned. Moreover, governors had wavered in terms of releasing the names; indications are some governors opted to release the names after making their selection. Other governors opted not to release the names, citing concerns that the release would have a “chilling effect” on attorneys who may not want current or future clients to know they are looking to leave active law practice.

Eventually things came to a head in August 2011 when the Honolulu Star-Advertiser filed suit in to obtain the names. By November 2011 the Judicial Selection Commission had agreed to release the names at the same time the governor was ordered by a court under the state’s Freedom of Information Act to release the names.

HB 420, as approved by the House Judiciary Committee, does nothing to change the provision in Art VI, Sec. 4 that “The deliberations of the commission shall be confidential.” Instead a new clause would be added to Art VI, Sec. 3 in that portion specifically dealing with the Appointment of Justices and Judges

The judicial selection commission shall disclose to the public the list of nominees for each vacancy concurrently with the presentation of each list to the governor or the chief justice, as applicable.

HB 420 is now in the House Finance Committee.