New district court judge on budget wish list

Chief Justice Recktenwald calls for new Lahaina post, more funds for abuse programs in address

Recktenwald

Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald called for the addition of another district court judge and $100,000 more for domestic violence intervention services for Maui County in his State of the Judiciary address to the state Legislature last month.

The new judge primarily would be located at the Lahaina Courthouse but will allow for “restructuring of the District Court dockets to better serve our districts, including the outer districts of Hana, Lanai, Molokai and Lahaina,” said Jan Kagehiro, director of communications and community relations for the Judiciary last week. The new judge and current five judges would increase services to those areas, outside of the main courthouse in Wailuku.

There are growing needs for adjudication and services on issues, such as mental health, homelessness, driving under the influence and abuse, she said Thursday.

The annual cost for a new district judge would be $319,000, based on current salary schedules for a new judge and three support staff, Kagehiro said.

The 2nd Circuit currently has three District Court judges — Kirstin Hamman, Kelsey Kawano and Blaine Kobayashi — and two Family Court district judges — Adrianne Heely and Lloyd Poelman.

District Court judges handle criminal cases with maximum jail terms of one year, probable cause hearings in felony cases, bail orders, search warrants, traffic violations and temporary restraining orders. On the civil side, the court handles small claims; civil action with debt, damage or property value not exceeding $40,000; and landlord-tenant actions.

At the beginning of the last state biennial budget process in 2017, Recktenwald also requested a District Court judge for the 2nd Circuit but the it was not included in the budget.

He cited significant increases in caseload, up 51 percent between fiscal years 2011 to 2016 in that year’s request. He also noted — in 2017 and this year — that the last time a District Court judge was added to the 2nd Circuit was 1982, when the county’s population was half its current size.

In his address, Recktenwald also called for more money for domestic violence services for Maui County. The Judiciary has submitted a budget request of $100,000 more to fund domestic violence intervention programs in the 2nd Circuit, Kagehiro said.

“The requested funding would help to ensure fairer compensation to the DVI providers and continuation of these important and mandated services,” she said.

State courts are mandated to provide domestic violence intervention services for defendants convicted of abuse of a family or household member. Currently, three agencies provide adult domestic violence intervention services for Maui County, as well as victim/survivor support services. These include temporary restraining order assistance, victim/survivor advocacy, support during court hearings, counseling for children who witness domestic violence and serving/modifying protective orders, Kagehiro said.

In the middle of the Great Recession, funding for these services was cut from $500,000 to $350,000 in fiscal year 2010, she said. Since then, the 2nd Circuit has not been able “to adequately increase compensation to the agencies” that provide domestic violence and victim/survivor services, except for a slight increase for batterer intervention groups and temporary restraining order services, she said.

“This has not only resulted in services being reduced but has affected the agencies’ ability to expand their programs and update curriculum as needed to provide best/evidence based services,” Kagehiro said. “The continued failure to sufficiently compensate these agencies will result in less-than-effective programs and lack of agencies willing to provide these statutorily mandated services.”

The limited funding has created added difficulties for the 2nd Circuit in providing those services on Lanai and Molokai, she said.

“It is an expensive endeavor for our resource-limited communities and requires premium contracted rates for agencies to cover their basic expense as residents of these communities cannot simply drive or fly to another island and must be served equally by the Judiciary,” said Kagehiro.

Recktenwald gave his address to the state Legislature on Jan. 23.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.