Skip to Main Nav Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer Content


Posted on Jan 25, 2000 in Speeches

Graphic Hawaii State Judiciary Logo


by the


Chief Justice

Supreme Court of Hawai`i

Tuesday, January 25, 2000

Senate Chambers; State Capitol

Governor Cayetano, Lieutenant Governor Hirono and Mr. Oshima, Speaker Say, President Mizuguchi, Speaker Emeritus Souki, other distinguished members of the Twentieth Legislature, Mayor Harris, Mayor Yamashiro, members of the federal and state Judiciaries, special guests, family, and friends:

It is my privilege to be here today to deliver my fourth State of the Judiciary Address. As I stand before you in the Year 2000, I am pleased to report that the state of Hawai`i’s Judiciary remains sound. However, I am concerned about public perception of certain aspects of the justice system. Last year, Hawai`i participated in a first-of-its-kind national summit in Washington, D.C. Five hundred delegates from the judiciaries of 46 states, Guam, and Puerto Rico, as well as members of the federal courts, the bar, the media, and citizen groups from across the country met to develop a national plan to address areas of public concern. The overwhelming representation at the summit was indeed an acknowledgment that the public’s regard for the state and federal judiciaries is just as important, or more important, than the judiciaries’ view of themselves.

Delegates reviewed results of nationwide surveys that measured public views of the state and federal judiciaries. In my view, some of the survey results are encouraging. For example: (1) 80% of those surveyed agree that “judges are generally honest and fair in deciding cases”; (2) 74% “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that court personnel are helpful and courteous; and (3) 75% had a “great deal” of or “some” trust and confidence in the courts in their communities. Results also indicated, however, that: (1) 70% of African-Americans believe they are treated “somewhat worse” or “far worse” than other groups; and (2) 68% of the public believe that it is not affordable to bring a case to court. What was most alarming to me was the fact that only 39% of those polled could identify all three branches of government and that 25% of them could not even name one branch.

By the conclusion of the summit, delegates had identified a number of issues that impact the public’s perception of the justice system. The top three concerns were: (1) first, the perception of unequal treatment within the justice system; (2) second, the high cost of the justice system; and (3) third, the lack of public understanding about the justice system.

Having participated in the summit, I believe the perception of unequal treatment in the justice system is less of a problem in Hawai`i than in any other state. In fact, this past year, the National Consortium of Task Forces on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the Courts recognized the make-up of the Hawai`i State Supreme Court as “a prime example” of the “principle of inclusiveness in the justice system.” While most states are struggling to achieve a Judiciary that is representative of its population, Hawai`i’s bench is a reflection of our diversified society, and our community is truly enriched by it.

Nevertheless, Hawai`i is not immune from the perception of unequal treatment in the courts. We, therefore, continue to take affirmative steps to enhance equal treatment to all who enter our courthouses through the development of numerous programs to improve the quality of justice for everyone. The Judiciary’s innovative programs that focus on helping our significant immigrant population better access and understand the justice system include: (1) a multilingual LawLine; (2) informational videos on small claims and traffic violations that are captioned for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and dubbed into Ilocano and Korean; (3) a directory of bilingual and multi-lingual attorneys and paralegals; and (4) an immigrant outreach directory. As a result of its work on these innovative projects, the Hawai`i Supreme Court Committee on Equality and Access to the Courts was selected this past year as one of ten nationwide recipients of the Foundation for Improvement of Justice’s award for innovative programs.

To enhance equal treatment to immigrants and non-immigrants alike, the Judiciary is making information about cases readily and freely accessible via our website. Last Friday, we unveiled a searchable Internet site that contains certain information on all public criminal, civil, and family court cases filed in our circuit courts statewide. Now, visitors to the Judiciary’s website can find case information on-line on any day, at any time.

Last legislative session, you helped address the perception of unequal treatment in the justice system when you appropriated capital improvement funds for a court navigation project that we refer to as “Ho`okele,” which means “to guide.” With a “guide” or concierge at the courthouse entrance and a Customer Service Center in courts that have a large number of self-represented litigants, Ho`okele will provide enhanced services to court users. Implementation of this innovative project will also be aided by over $250,000 in federal funds.

The second issue of concern that emerged from the summit was the cost of using the justice system. Related concerns were that the justice system is too slow and too adversarial. We recognize that the adversarial system has worked well for hundreds of years and forms the heart of the right to trial. In our system of justice, there are — and will always be — certain cases that require the structure and discipline of the traditional adversarial system, but others may not. We, therefore, continue to encourage and pursue faster and less costly methods of dispute resolution that will meet the specific needs of those who come to our courts.

For example, the Judiciary has assisted the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission in the development and implementation of a mediation alternative for contested cases. The results over the past year have been encouraging as a significant number of civil rights cases — 67% — have been amicably resolved without the need of a formal hearing.

Three weeks from today, the Civil Divisions of the First Circuit Court will convert to an individual trial calendar system, where one judge will handle a case from initiation through resolution. Under this new system, judges will have increased responsibility for managing an assigned caseload. They will be able to more easily employ proactive case management procedures, including the use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, such as arbitration and mediation. In fact, judges in each civil trial court now have the explicit power to compel parties in appropriate cases to go to non-binding arbitration.

At the foundation of our efforts to reduce costs and delays is technology. This past year, the Judiciary finalized and published a technological vision that represents a strategic outlook through the Year 2010. At the core of our strategic technological vision is the development of an integrated case management system. Under this system, cases could be filed electronically, court calendars and more detailed case information would be published on the Internet, and case information would be electronically shared between all courts, thus negating the need to re-enter data. The process will not only be more convenient for the public and the courts, but will enhance speed and data quality. Although we recognize that technology is merely a means to an end, it is a critical component in our efforts to reduce costs and delays. Consequently, approximately one-half of the Judiciary’s supplemental budget requests are technology-related, and we ask for your support in this critical area.

Associated with the issues of cost and delay is the public’s growing belief that the judicial system must offer specialized forums tailored to address society’s changing needs and to accommodate a broader spectrum of rehabilitative services. Our adaptability to changing social needs can be seen in the area of foster care. Unfortunately, we are seeing more and more cases where parental rights require termination due to abuse and neglect, resulting in more children being placed in foster custody. To address this growing problem, the First Circuit Family Court worked with representatives from the Department of Human Services, the Casey Family Program, Child and Family Services, foster parents, and others to form a new program called “The Adoption Connection,” which has as its Honorary Chair, Mrs. Vicky Cayetano. The primary goal of the Adoption Connection is to secure permanent, safe, and loving homes for Hawai`i’s foster children. We are proud to be involved in this collaborative community effort.

The drug abuse problem and our efforts to assist in addressing this significant area can be seen in the work of the drug court program. Since its inception in 1996, Hawai`i’s Drug Court Program has successfully treated non-violent offenders addicted to drugs. Drug courts divert non-violent offenders from incarceration in order to enhance their recovery, prevent their relapse, and significantly reduce recidivism. Not only does the program help restore these individuals to full, productive lives, but it saves the State the considerable expense associated with incarceration and the potentially recurring costs of subsequent incarceration. Last year, our’s was the first drug court in the nation to develop a program to treat offenders who have both mental-health and drug-addiction problems. Grants from the United States Department of Justice and the state Department of the Attorney General were instrumental in launching this new program.

The Judiciary is grateful for your decision last session to make the O`ahu Drug Court a permanent program. We have now turned our attention to the neighbor islands, where a Drug Court should be serving the tri-island County of Maui by June 2000. The target population for our first year on Maui are 120 non-violent substance-abusing offenders. Federal grants and private donations will initially help to fund the Maui Drug Court, and we hope you will see fit to allocate state funds this session to this most worthy effort.

In 1999, Oahu’s District Court became the first in the nation to participate as a judicial partner in a federal program known as “Weed and Seed.” Hawai`i’s Weed and Seed Program, which has received national recognition, currently focuses on the Chinatown/Kalihi-Palama neighborhood. It is an innovative community enhancement program sponsored by the Department of Justice and is actively promoted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Hawai`i. Under the program, representatives from the Hawai`i Drug Court, social service organizations, and federal, state, and city law enforcement agencies work closely with community organizations, residents, private businesses, and non-profit service providers within the designated area to “weed out” certain offenders for special community-centered treatment. Unlike the traditional court model that emphasizes process and precedents, the Weed and Seed Program focuses on problem-solving and “restorative” outcomes for the community as a whole. Later this year, the program will focus on a second designated “weed and seed” area.

The third issue, that is, the lack of public understanding of the justice system, is my most important area of concern. And, I am the first to acknowledge that the Judiciary has a responsibility to help educate the public about the third branch of government. In our efforts to meet that responsibility this past year, our judges have served as panelists or guest speakers at conferences and seminars, spoken at schools and community gatherings, and hosted school or other groups in their courtrooms. We also continue to take every opportunity to inform our citizens of certain guiding principles. For example: (1) that judges may not consider popular opinion in reaching decisions; (2) that the accused has the right to legal counsel no matter how heinous the charge; (3) that judges are bound by case precedent and evidentiary rules; and (4) that the Judiciary is a separate branch of government and its separateness and independence are vital to the protection of liberty.

In response to some of the Judiciary’s general education efforts, hundreds of people this past year attended the first ever “Meet Your Judges” forums simultaneously held on O`ahu, Maui, Kaua`i, and in Hilo and Kona on the Big Island. During the forums, judges representing every level of our courts answered questions and discussed a range of court-related topics. The forums provided a unique opportunity for judges to hear directly from members of the general public, and for the public to learn about their court system directly from the judges.

The Legislators’ “Day-in-Court” Program represents our efforts to provide you with a first-hand look at court operations. I was pleased to learn that, over the past few months, more legislators have participated in this program than in any previous year.

Our on-going efforts to educate jurors can be seen in our recently completed pilot project that employed certain jury innovations. We are currently evaluating the results of that project and will, if appropriate, alter or modify our jury trial procedures.

However, our continuing educational efforts alone will not significantly increase the public’s understanding of the justice system. I submit that, in order to remedy this situation, the quality and quantity of civic education in both our public and private schools must be improved. According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, considered the most authoritative source regarding the status of nationwide elementary and secondary education, three million high school seniors will be eligible to vote in the first presidential election of the 21st century. However, only one in four of them has more than a basic understanding of how the American system of democratic government works, let alone the Judiciary’s role in it.

Indeed, basic knowledge about how government works is essential for a citizenry to govern itself, and I believe we — as a society — have a responsibility to provide our young people with the necessary tools so that our democratic form of government can continue to flourish. This includes providing an understanding of the proper role of the Judiciary as well as the Executive and Legislative Branches. I have spoken with Superintendent LeMahieu — and plan to call upon the private schools — regarding this concern. I would like to thank Doctor LeMahieu for his openness, but more importantly, for his responsiveness, as he has indicated that he intends to immediately assess the present curriculum relating to the teaching of civics and government. He has also indicated his interest in reviewing the Summit’s national plan to determine the possibility of forming a partnership between the Department of Education, the Judiciary, and the Bar to address this critical issue.

I have talked today about national concerns with the justice system because they have application here in Hawai`i as well. But as we embark on a new century, we must acknowledge that Hawai`i has unique challenges. We are grateful to you for the monies appropriated last session for a new Kaua`i courthouse; however, some of our other state court buildings are bursting at the seams. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the Big Island in Hilo. Security there is jeopardized, efficiency is compromised, and employee-morale is significantly affected by the cramped conditions. This session, we respectfully seek your support in appropriating monies to acquire the land for a new Hilo Judiciary complex.

As you well know, serving the public with the limited resources available is always a challenge. The Judiciary’s budget represents less than 3% of the State’s budget, but we have almost 1,700 employees. Consequently, we are looking at how best to organize for the future. In that regard, we have initiated our own restructuring effort, called Achieving Court Excellence, or ACE. An important part of the ACE effort addresses the culture and work environment of the Judiciary. We, therefore, stand ready to work with the Executive and Legislative Branches, as well as the employee representatives, to find creative solutions to better serve the public while balancing both the interests of the employees and of the public.

We also face the ever-present need to attract and retain qualified judges. This session alone, the Senate will be asked to confirm appointments for nine judicial vacancies. We are grateful to you for your commitment to provide the judicial pay raise that you intended last session, and we hope the additional compensation will help attract and keep good judges.

Finally, standing as we are on the threshold of the 21st century and looking into the future, I pledge to you and the people of Hawai`i that, as we enter the new century, the fundamental values and guiding principles that the Judiciary represents will not change. The courthouses of the future will almost certainly bear little resemblance to the structures of the present. But, whatever the physical appearance of the courthouse may be, I assure you that it will still be a place where everyone is equal before the law. Our citizens can rely upon the Judiciary in the third millennium because it has proven it can embrace change and, at the same time, preserve the fundamental principles of the past. We also pledge to work cooperatively and constructively with the Executive and Legislative Branches.

Ladies and gentlemen — throughout the coming years, the Judiciary will remain committed foremost to applying the rule of law through impartial and independent decision-making. Ultimately, the principles of justice and fair play remain, and will forever remain, the heart of our Judiciary.

Thank you.