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Young Lawyers’ Division of the Hawai`i State Bar Association

Posted on Sep 27, 2001 in Speeches


by the


Chief Justice

at the

Hawai`i State Bar Association Convention
Young Lawyers Division Luncheon
Thursday, September 27, 2001
Hilton Hawaiian Village — Coral Ballroom III


Over the past two and a half weeks, I — and I suspect all of you — have been closely monitoring the news of the September 11th attack on America and its aftermath. Surely, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who have lost their lives as well as with their families and friends. The day following the devastation on the East Coast, I received an e-mail communication from a former supreme court staff attorney who had moved to Washington, D.C. with his wife and three-year-old son just a few months ago to take a job with the federal government. Fortunately, his e-mail brought good news that he and his family were safe. I thought I’d share an excerpt from his message with you: He wrote:

The scary thing is trying to shake the feeling that we’ll be hit again. Working in Washington, D.C. makes us “ground zero” for future terrorist attacks. I worry about my family, my future, and my country. We’ve lost something inexplicable in yesterday’s attack, and I fear for the future — in particular, my son’s future. It is truly a sobering thought. If anything, you can see a determination rising from people as surely as the sun came up this morning. I think that a lot of people will return to their jobs with a renewed sense of vigor, purpose, and patriotism.

As evinced by the events since September 11th, the resolve of the American people is truly remarkable. And, in keeping with that resolve, I commend you for forging ahead with this year’s Bar convention.

e e e e e

To Bar President David Louie — I thank you for your kind invitation to be here today to speak to the Bar about our joint goals of protecting the rights of individuals and resolving disputes justly, efficiently, and effectively. The Judiciary is indeed grateful to David for his untiring support and commitment to the administration of and access to justice. I, personally, will miss David’s comic-book-stories!

Ladies and gentlemen — the state of the Judiciary remains sound. However, we are not — and cannot afford to remain — static or comfortable about the way we do business. Those of us who spend our time in government service frequently find that much of our time is spent in crisis management, with little time to think of the big picture or to plan for the future. As we struggled through the fiscal crises of the recent past, I resolved that, when we could, the Judiciary would look beyond the day-to-day problems and undertake a comprehensive look at how we might organize ourselves to more efficiently and effectively meet our public service mission with the limited resources we have and will likely have to work with in the foreseeable future.

In that regard, we have strived to avoid the type of attitude reflected by Lee DeForest, known as “The Father of Radio,” who, in 1926, said, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially, I consider it an impossibility, a development of which we need waste little time dreaming.” Unlike Mr. DeForest, we continue to pursue our vision of finding innovative ways to more effectively and efficiently serve the public.

With that goal in mind, we set in motion our Achieving Court Excellence or ACE project, which, in the end, resulted in the adoption of twenty-nine recommended “initiatives” — each of which is designed to improve our services to the public and each of which is being pursued. I, therefore, thought I might spend my time with you today explaining to you — in detail — each of those twenty-nine recommendations! But — you can breathe a sigh of relief as I will not subject you to such cruel and unusual punishment. Instead, I thought you might be interested in learning a little about our plans regarding the single-tier initiative and our efforts related to the initiative on information management, as well as an update regarding jury innovations and our judicial evaluation program.

Single-Tier System

The goal of the “single-tier” initiative is very simple. The vision is to formulate a one-tier trial court system in which parties and attorneys need not spend hours and hours of valuable time trying to determine: (1) which state trial court can handle a claim; (2)whether different claims must be heard in different trial courts; or (3) whether some claims must be abandoned because a party simply cannot afford to litigate in more than one court at a time. In other words, the single-tier initiative is — to put it in its most simplistic terms — based on the premise that the assignment of cases to a proper docket should be an administrative matter, not a major legal decision. What we envision is a future court system that is flexible enough to create specialty divisions, if needed, without having to combine two or three kinds of judges or levels of courts to meet the needs of the litigants and their attorneys. We want judges to be able to concentrate in specialities for which they are most competent, but to also be able to take on other kinds of matters or issues — with training, of course — should the need to do so arise. Finally, we envision that a single-tier trial court system will enable us to use the resources made available to us by the people of this state in a manner that appropriately and efficiently serves their needs. Although we believe our current trial court system works quite well, we also believe it can be so much better and much less bureaucratic if it is administered as one court instead of three, that is, the family, district, and circuit courts.

There is no doubt, however, that we will need your support to accomplish this bold initiative. I hope you will lend your support when it comes time for us to seek legislation, including constitutional amendments, that will be necessary to implement a true one-tier trial court system. If you are interested in learning more about the single-tier initiative, a more detailed vision of the proposal will soon be placed on the Judiciary’s webpage, along with a number of frequently asked questions and answers. I encourage you to submit additional questions or comments as such feedback will assist us as we plan for the future.

Judiciary Information Management System (JIMS)

More immediately and in accordance with another ACE initiative, we hope to issue in the next few weeks a request for proposals for a single Judiciary Information Management System or JIMS. Once completed and operational, JIMS will replace the thirteen or so information systems now in use at different levels and within different sectors of the Judiciary. These thirteen separate systems were designed and implemented to meet specific needs of particular programs as monies were available. And, as most of you are aware, the existing systems cannot share information with each other, or, in most instances, with you or the public. Further, many of the current information systems — like the Supreme Court’s Wang System — have long been obsolete, and none of the current systems can provide the kind of service demanded and needed by practitioners and the public in this information age.

Our goal is to provide a single information system that will allow court users and the public to get any information that is available in a public court record. We want court users to have the ability to file documents and pay fees electronically, to be automatically notified when decisions are filed in a case, and to testify or participate in hearings from remote locations. To that end, we have engaged in a lengthy process of analyzing our current needs, anticipating future needs, and building a “requirements definition” that we hope will allow vendors to propose an information management system that will serve the needs of the people of Hawai`i. We are eager to see the vendor proposals in response to the RFP, and we hope we can count on your support should the need to seek additional legislative funding arise in the future.

On the more immediate horizon, I am pleased to report that, by early next year, attorneys and members of the public will be able to request and pay for a court document via the Internet. Once the request has been received and the credit card payment accepted, court clerks will scan the requested document and transmit it via e:mail to the requester. If certification is required, the document will be mailed to the requestor. Currently, the processing of a request by mail for a court document can take up to four weeks to process, especially when a case number is not provided. We anticipate that the turn around time for an Internet uncertified document request will be approximately 48-hours.

Also, by the end of this year, the on-line search for case information and case documents, known as the Ho`ohiki application, will be upgraded. As a result, searches from our statewide circuit and family court record database on the Judiciary’s website will be faster and more user friendly. In addition, beginning January of next year, information on O`ahu-district court civil cases will also be available.

We want our court records to be more open and accessible for attorneys, litigants, members of the public, media, academics, or others who have need of the public information we have. At the same time, however, we are aware that open records, especially ones that are available on the Internet, raise competing privacy interests. We hope we can also call upon members of the Bar to share ideas and expertise on these subjects as we work to strike the proper balance.

Jury Innovations

As you know, a short time ago, jury and jury trial innovations were written into our court rules. I submit that the significant role of juries in this country is central to democratic governance and is a testament to the vision of our forefather’s who believed that a verdict by one’s peers can be fair, unbiased, and accurate. In many states, however, — and Hawai`i is no exception — jury service has become such a burden that many people called for jury service fail to appear. In fact, the resulting shortage of some demographic groups is so severe that jury pools in some states are in danger of violating constitutional standards for fairness.

Unfortunately, jury service can sometimes be boring. Prospective jurors should know, however, that, at times, jury trials have their lighter moments. I recall one trial in particular while sitting as a circuit court judge. Once the jury had been impaneled and prior to commencing with opening statements, I advised the jurors generally regarding what they could expect in my court on a daily basis, which was my usual practice. For example, I told them that, if any juror needed to use the restroom while court was in session, he or she should raise their hand. In this case, one of the jurors immediately raised her hand and asked, “How will that help?”

Theorizing on the decline in citizen participation, many observers have raised concerns about the traditional restrictions on the role of jurors in trials. In this regard, a growing body of research has demonstrated that permitting more juror participation, in general, and improving communication with jurors, in particular, improves the quality of the experience for jurors and, ultimately, the quality of the trial and verdict.

Many of you may recall that, after a fifteen-month pilot project on certain jury innovations, the Hawai`i Supreme Court adopted amendments to several court rules designed to enhance the functioning of the jury system. In the new model, jurors are not treated as passive recipients of information, but as active participants and full partners with the judge and the attorneys in the court’s proceedings. As you may be aware, since July 1, 2000, jurors have been allowed, at the discretion of the trial judge, to suggest questions to be asked of witnesses. Also, parties have been allowed to make “mini-opening statements” to potential jurors prior to jury selection. To the extent possible, all expert testimony is scheduled during the same phase of the trial in civil and family court cases, and jurors have received hard copies of jury instructions before closing arguments.

What you may not know is that Hawai`i is the only jurisdiction in the nation to have conducted extensive jury innovation evaluations before implementing them. Now that they have been utilized for more than a year, we are now readying questionnaire forms to be circulated to former jurors, attorneys, and trial court judges to determine the extent to which the innovations are used, the reasons judges may have for not using the innovations, and whether the innovations did or did not enhance the trial process. Thus, when you receive our questionnaire, I encourage you to respond fully to the questions so that we may continue to improve jury service for the citizens of our state. Your responses will greatly assist us — as well as other states — in extracting lessons from our experience.

Judicial Performance Evaluation

Learning lessons from our experience has resulted in improvements and expansion of our Judicial Performance Evaluation Program. You may recall that, at your annual convention in December 1999, I announced that, as a result of discussion with Bar leadership and the Judicial Performance Committee, a proposal to seek the assistance of former judges, members of the public knowledgeable in the law, and retired practitioners to aid in the review and evaluation process of individual judges would be explored. After studying the proposal, the Judicial Performance Committee recommended that three separate panels, comprising of three persons — one from each of the aforementioned groups — be selected to serve on a review panel to help judges improve their performance. From a list of prominent individuals presented to me by the Committee, I appointed nine members: Mr. Robert Alm, Ms. Momi Cazimero, Dean Larry Foster, Ms. Lynne Kaneshiro, and Mr. Willson Moore, as well as retired judges Doug McNish, Herbert Shimabukuro, and Betty Vitousek.

Since September 2000, we have convened three panels that have met with 29 individuals judges from the circuit, district, and family court levels. An additional seven district court judges will be meeting with a panel next month. I am pleased to report that feedback from judges that have been reviewed by the panels, thus far, has been very positive. These judges have indicated that the process is productive and that they very much appreciated the input from the various perspectives represented on the panel.

In January 2001, we implemented a pilot project to evaluate appellate justices and judges, becoming only the third state in the nation with an appointive versus elective system for judges to do so and bringing judicial performance evaluations to every level of our court system. As a result, six of the nine appellate justices and judges have been evaluated and met with the review panel in May of this year. On behalf of all of the justices and judges, we thank you for your valuable time in responding to questionnaires forwarded to you that serve as the basis for our evaluations. We ask for your continued input as we strive to improve our skills and performance.


The recent developments in jury innovations and judicial performance evaluations as well as the initiatives that are part of our ACE project have certain features in common: First, they all require collaboration between the bench and bar; second, they all will have a profound effect on how the public perceives the legal profession and the administration of justice; and third, they all will require our best efforts to succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen — Our roles may be different, but our goals are similar; and, in one notable instance, our goal is exactly the same — to advance the administration of justice. As always, I am deeply grateful for the support, patience, and encouragement that you have shown during my tenure as chief justice these past eight and half years, and I hope I can count on your continued support and assistance. I look forward to our future together. It has been — and I am confident it will continue to be — a very bright one.