HONOLULU (CN) – Gov. Neil Abercrombie has appealed an order that would force his office to cover attorneys’ fees for Hawaii’s largest newspaper, which cornered the state last year in a challenge against Supreme Court candidate secrecy.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser sued Hawaii’s governor in August 2011, claiming that Abercrombie violated of the Uniform Information Practices Act by refusing to publicly disclose the names of Hawaii Supreme Court nominees given to him by the state’s Judicial Selection Committee.
After ordering Abercrombie to disclose the names, the Oahu First Circuit Court then granted the newspaper’s request for $69,627 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
Deputy Attorney General Charleen Aina appealed on Abercrombie’s behalf last week. The newspaper is represented by Robert Thomas with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert.
In fighting disclosure of the names last year, Abercrombie argued that such transparency would hurt the process of attracting prospective judicial applicants.
When the Star-Advertiser brought the issue to the Supreme Court’s Office of Information Practices, that department initially said the list could be withheld because of “the potential for injection of undue influence in or politicizing of a selection process carefully established by the Constitution.”
. […] The frustration upon which that opinion is based would end once a nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until that point, the same basis for frustration would exist because, if the Senate chose not to confirm a nominee appointed by the Governor, another nominee would then be selected from the list.”
The Star-Advertiser sued when the OIP declined to further address the matter because of “limited resources,” a “backlog and other priorities.”
At a hearing in November, the Star-Advertiser’s attorney argued that it would be one thing “if the JSC list included everybody’s resume and background check.”
“But here, it’s literally just limited to their name, and the name alone is not significant,” Thomas said.
Judge Karl Sakamoto sided with the newspaper after finding that “public interest outweighs personal privacy.”
Though the U.S. Supreme Court found no constitutional obligation either way about compelling such disclosure, Abercrombie failed to argue any significant privacy interests in the mere release of nominee names, according to the decision.
“The court also concludes that given the novel and complex issues presented by this case and the extensive research it entailed, the time expended by the attorneys for the plaintiff Star-Advertiser was reasonable,” Sakamoto wrote in June.
The Judicial Selection Committee in Hawaii later amended its own rules, based on the ruling. The new mandate requires that, moving forward, the names of judicial nominees be publicly released, at the same time they are transmitted to the governor.