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Good Man, But Not For Supreme Court

Judge Michael Wilson. Photo from Bob Jones

Judge Michael Wilson. Photo from Bob Jones

The nomination of Kailua High School grad Michael Wilson to the Hawaii Supreme Court should be rejected by the state Senate – and I hope this column doesn’t come too late.

My theme is this: Never confirm anyone to a court seat if the Hawaii State Bar Association rates him/her as “unqualified.” That’s Wilson’s HSBA rating.

Gov. John Waihee’s nominee Sharon Himeno was rejected as “an unexceptional lawyer with no bench experience.” She was the wife of Waihee’s appointed attorney general.

Gov. Linda Lingle’s nomination of Katherine Leonard as chief justice of the Supreme Court in 2010 got short-circuited by the Bar Association’s “unqualified” rating.

I know Wilson. Appreciate his time here in law firms, as the Department of Land and Natural Resources chairman, head of State Consumer Advocacy (when not reappointed to DLNR), Circuit Court judge and supporter of environmental issues.

But “unqualified” should always be the death sentence from Hawaii’s legal brotherhood. Who knows you better?

I’m not interested in the minutiae of that rating. Something he did on the bench? Something in his personal life?

That powerful word “unqualified” says it all for me. Should important high court decisions hang on the ruling of an “unqualified” associate justice?


That Bar rating is based on integrity, law knowledge, judicial temperament and a personal interview.

Wilson came out “unqualified.”

But he got Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s nomination over five other candidates.

Here’s the citizen-rather-than-politician edge: An “unqualified” should be reason enough to reject him.

Ben Cayetano says, “Wilson will be an excellent associate justice.” Abercrombie loves him. He’s very liberal and very environmental – worked for many liberal/environmental causes.

Good for me. Maybe not for others. Is this packing the court?

I’ve screened Wilson’s court rulings and find nothing alarming but also nothing brilliant.

For law intellectualism, I’d have selected Iolani’s Craig Nakamura, chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals. Nakamura graduated from Harvard Law School and is a former assistant U.S. attorney.

Yes, he was a GOP appointee, but so is Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Rechtenwald, and I don’t hear anyone complaining about his courtroom politics.

Or, Wilson could withdraw. I certainly would in his place.

Mike, do you want to be known in national media as Hawaii’s Supreme Court justice collecting $151,118 a year for being “unqualified”?

I wrote that Gov. Ben Cayetano failed to get public-worker contract arbitration changed to settle-or-strike. True, he got that passed but the moment he was gone, the Legislature put arbitration back in effect.

Did Cayetano put personal bucks into those unsuccessful anti-rail lawsuits? He says “yes, $5,000” and that “Cliff Slater did the heavy lifting.”