Saturday, August 07, 2010


On the newspaper coverage of Senate’s vote not to assent to nomination of Judge Leonard

by Larry Geller

Quite possibly the job of many corporate CEOs would be easier than what a Hawaii chief justice has to deal with. Over the years, the Legislature has piled on responsibility after responsibility until (if I remember yesterday’s floor speeches accurately) about 60% of the time she or he spends on the job will be administrative and not judicial.

This is counter-intuitive perhaps, but only because the responsibilities of the job have not been explained to the public. Unless you read this blog or Ian Lind’s. Readers wouldn’t get more than a hint from the daily newspaper. Of course, senators, in evaluating the qualifications of nominees, know that they have to take that into consideration.

So, how did our daily paper do with the Chief Justice story? Not very well, IMHO.

Once again, no hint of those extensive administrative responsibilities that a Hawaii chief justice faces.

Instead, the story goes to great pains to explicate the Governor’s position. From the start:

Gov. Linda Lingle blasted the state Senate's rejection of Katherine Leonard as chief justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court yesterday, calling the 14 lawmakers who voted against her nominee hypocritical.

Like a musical composition, the theme is reiterated later in the article, which even lists up the names of senators who voted for or against approval with this intro:

The Senate rejected Gov. Linda Lingle's appointment of Appellate Judge Katherine Leonard as the next chief justice by a 14-8 vote.

There’s nothing factually incorrect in this, just a continuation of the for-or-against-Lingle theme.  In fact, senators weighed the complex issues before them and decided not to consent to the nomination of a person they felt could not handle the responsibilities of the job. Lingle appointed, they just didn’t consent, which is the way the system is designed to work.

And once again the paper put “unqualified” in quotes. The Bar Association said she was unqualified, without quotes. Unqualified. It’s not just semantics. The use of quotation marks can be used, as it is here, to raise doubt about an action or statement. Let’s try it out. The Star-Advertiser is Hawaii’s “most respected” daily newspaper. A reader must wonder why that’s in question. Now again: The Star-Advertiser is Hawaii’s most respected daily newspaper.

The article suggests again that the vote was unfair with this juxtaposition:

Her nomination was supported by more than 100 people, including the 400-member Hawaii Women Lawyers; retired Associate Justice Robert Klein; other retired judges; prosecuting and defense attorneys; former bar association presidents; and other downtown Honolulu legal heavyweights.

But Taniguchi cited the bar association board's vote and the testimony of several individuals, including retired Circuit Judge Marie Milks, when the committee voted Thursday to recommend against confirmation.

Unfair, right? Hundreds in favor and only “several” gave opposing testimony. The use of “But” sets that up. Taniguchi said more than that.

Neither Sen. Taniguchi nor the rest of the Senate weighed the pile of evidence on a scale. They considered it, of course, and also the administrative duties that the newspaper failed to explain, the Bar Association report, and the remarks of their fellow legislators in committee and on the floor.

Finally, the article quoted Sen. Hemmings:

Senate minority leader Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) cited the resolution urging Lingle for more female judges that passed the Senate by a 23-2 vote. "You have a chance today to achieve your goals," he said.

… but it failed to note that Sen. Hemmings was one of the two senators who voted against that resolution (the other was Sen. Slom [SR26, 2010]).

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Excellent analysis. We need more critical oversight of the news media in Hawaii. There is too much spin hidden within the mainstream press. News outlets like the Honolulu Star-Advertiser need to try a little harder at delivering good journalism and stop trying to be political players. Newspapers lament over declining readership. Broadcast news station complain of declining viewership.
But, both of these information venues keep inserting conservative perspective in a state that consistently votes democrats. Go figure.

Eric Holz's objections to Leonards nomination due to lack of proper qualifications was good enough for me!

Tootoo is unqualified and they let him through the door. Its possible that while Leonard was unqualified, some based their vote on unconscious sexism. I agree that spinning the entire article about the possibility of unconscious sexism when other rational explanations were ACTUALLY presented does a disservice and actually undermines real claims to examine institutional sexism. I also find it ironic that more wasn't done about how Lingle is allowed to simultaneously criticize the HSBA process and use their previous ICA "qualified" rating for Leonard. Which is it Linda? Is it a flawed process or is it only flawed when you don't agree with them? Thankfully there is Olelo so that discerning minds can bypass Honolulu's daily right wing rag. An overall tragedy for journalism though.

Glad someone else wrote about this Larry. The very first day after the Bar's rating came out Ken Kobayashi's article spent practically the whole article regurgitating Lingle's and Bennett's attacks on the "secrecy" of the Bar's process- until the last three paragraphs which just basically said "it's always been that way" without saying why (retaliation plus the power of the chief justice over attorney's careers).

I still haven't seen anything on how many other states' bars give reasons, only that the national bar gives reasons for SCOTUS nominees' ratings and then not even noting it's because only a tiny fraction of a percent ever argue before the SCOTUS whereas here it's a lot more common.

My first thought, as I wrote, was to contrast the administration's whining about secrecy with the secrecy exposed Doug White's absurdly obstructionist year-long and winding road to get a hold of her communications on her 2009 vetoes.

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