Nominee for high court garners OK despite concerns

HONOLULU – The state Senate has approved Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s nominee for the state Supreme Court, despite concerns raised about the nominee’s work with women, his judicial ethics and diligence.

All but one senator – 24 to 1- voted to approve Circuit Judge Michael Wilson to the post Monday. Sen. Roz Baker of Maui had the sole vote against him.

The Hawaii State Bar Association had rated Wilson “unqualified” because of concerns over his work ethic and professionalism. The Senate Women’s Caucus, which included Baker, had asked for more details on Wilson’s record, prompting Judiciary Committee Chairman Clayton Hee to hold a weekend hearing to allow Wilson and others to discuss the nomination.

Baker said Monday evening that she had been approached in confidence by women who questioned Wilson’s work ethic, judicial ethics and diligence. She was generalizing and categorizing their comments and could not disclose more specifics because of confidentiality.

“I felt like somebody had to stand up to say their voices were heard and that this is not acceptable,” she said.

Baker said these people “felt powerless in the confirmation” process and could not come forward and say why they felt Wilson was not the best candidate for the state Supreme Court, she said. Saying that she has been in similar situations herself, there were work-setting issues and a hearing process that can be contentious and intimidating that kept these people from going public.

Baker said that Wilson denied the allegations in state Senate hearings, but the senators did not have access to his work evaluations, she said.

She hopes Wilson’s rocky nomination process will lead to changes in the judicial selection process. Baker, who represents South and West Maui, said that “we need a longer time . . . especially on the higher courts” to evaluate candidates.

She also hoped that the Judiciary and the chief justice would look at the selection process, reform procedures and provide “a safe place” for people to bring up their concerns.

There was pressure to vote with the rest of the state Senate, she said, noting that she got calls from people saying that Wilson was going to be a liberal on the court and that if he is defeated it was going to look bad.

“I didn’t ask anybody else to join me,” she said.

After the vote, Baker said she went up to the new associate supreme court justice and told him that she hopes he proves her wrong. She wished him well and told him that her vote was not personal.

“I expect that you are going to be an on-it justice . . . (and) rise to the highest standards,” Baker said she told Wilson.