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Maui Judge Who Nearly Lost Her Home in the Wildfires Named A “Courageous Judge” by National Judicial College

Posted on Jan 2, 2024 in Featured News, News & Reports, Press Releases
Image of Judge Adrianne Heely Caires.

Judge Adrianne Heely Caires

WAILUKU, Hawaiʻi – Maui District Family Court Judge Adrianne N. Heely Caires was selected as one of 60 courageous judges to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the founding of The National Judicial College (NJC). The list includes Frank M. Johnson, the federal judge in the 1956 Rosa Parks trial, tribal judges, and judges from foreign countries. But most of the honorees are from state courts.

“We hope this list raises people’s awareness of and appreciation for the thousands of steadfast judges who keep the promise of equal justice under law every day, including those days when it would be more popular or convenient to do something else,” said NJC President Benes Z. Aldana. NJC is the country’s oldest and largest educational institution where judges learn courtroom skills.

Judge Heely Caires, who has been a Second Circuit District Court judge since 2012, was nominated for the honor by Paul Tonnessen, Executive Director of the Maui Friends of the Children’s Justice Center.

“It was with honor that I nominated Judge Heely Caires as an outstanding judge for not only in her role as a judge but also for her humanitarian presence she gifts our community with on a daily basis,” Tonnessen said. “She is a woman who understands the need to be an instrument of peace for all she encounters both inside and outside the courtroom. While she needs to address the issues coming before her, she also has the empathy to understand why.”

Judge Heely Caires, her husband, Leo Caires, and their four children had to evacuate their home in Kula during the wildfires and came back a week later to a heavily damaged structure. “We were lucky our house was not completely destroyed. More than 20 of our neighbors lost their homes,” she said.

Despite this personal tragedy, Judge Heely Caires and her judicial colleagues from across the state quickly banded together to work with the Child Welfare Services staff, guardians ad litem, and others to find shelters for the foster children in Lahaina who now had no place to live. “We had to act fast and, thankfully, there were so many who responded.

“Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald and Deputy Administrative Director Brandon Kimura came to Maui shortly after the fires to meet with our judges, the Maui County Bar Association, and other local leaders to talk about the needs of the community.”

One critical need had little to do with law and order, but proved to be incredibly important – supporting the hundreds of children and adults dealing with extreme trauma.

“Brandon connected me with the Governor’s Office on Wellness and Resilience and we were able to copy and laminate 500 of their mental health resource care cards thanks to funding assistance from the Children’s Justice Act Committee,” Judge Heely Caires said. “The cards, which provide tips on trauma informed care, were distributed to the judges, public defenders, county prosecutors, Office of Mayor, and all resource centers for the volunteers and leaders helping at the evacuation shelters.

“But you know, despite this unfathomable tragedy, it was an eight-year-old foster child who gave me hope for our future,” Judge Heely Caires said. “You see, Charlie’s mom had passed away two years ago and while at the beach scattering her ashes, she saw another girl about her age. Charlie asked the girl if she could go and live with her. Fast forward two years and Charlie was scheduled to be adopted a week after the wildfires by the other little girl’s family.

“When I saw Charlie at the adoption proceeding, she had the biggest smile on her face,” said Judge Heely Caires. “Despite just losing her home and school and having to re-shelter and re-enroll in a new school, there she was, so happy! All she wanted was to get another copy of the Astronaut Girl book I had previously given her, because she lost it in the fire. Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the courtroom.”

This little girl, who had experienced life-changing trauma before the wildfires ever happened, was just happy to be alive.

“If everyone had Charlie’s spirit and resiliency, this world would be a better place,” Judge Heely Caires concluded.



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