Supreme Court chief justice issues memo following campaign lapse

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HILO — Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald issued a memo to chief judges statewide after ads appeared on the Big Island depicting state Judiciary personnel endorsing a candidate for county prosecutor.

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HILO — Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald issued a memo to chief judges statewide after ads appeared on the Big Island depicting state Judiciary personnel endorsing a candidate for county prosecutor.

“This serves as a good reminder of the importance of ensuring that judiciary staff who directly report to judges understand the requirements of the (code of judicial conduct, code of conduct for law clerks and the state ethics code),” Recktenwald said in the Aug. 12 memo.

The memo, which had several sentences redacted, was provided to West Hawaii Today after a public records request.

The memo cites the sections of the code of judicial conduct that say a judge may not “publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for any public office,” and “a judge shall take reasonable measures to ensure that other persons do not undertake, on behalf of the judge, any activities prohibited under” the code.

“Specifically, judges should remind employees who directly report to them that they should not use their affiliation with the court, to the judge, in a manner that could reasonably be inferred as attributable to either the judge or the Judiciary,” Recktenwald’s memo continued.

Because of the redaction, it’s not possible to know whether any campaign or employees were named specifically in the memo.

“The intent of the memorandum we provided … was to strike a balance between ensuring that our employees’ First Amendment rights are protected and that the mandates of the Codes of Judicial Conduct and Hawaii State Ethics are complied with,” Judiciary spokeswoman Tammy Mori said Wednesday. “A few sentences in the memorandum were redacted so as not to lead to an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy concerning the persons involved.”

Ads that ran in both Big Island newspapers before the primary election depicted two court employees — 3rd Circuit Court Clerk Junette Nakamura and Probation Officer Leroy Pasalo — endorsing Mike Kagami, who was challenging County Prosecutor Mitch Roth.

Roth won with almost 69 percent of the vote after a contentious campaign. He circulated his own memo Aug. 19.

“As many of you may be aware, the Judiciary is looking into questionable ethical actions by some Judiciary and probation staff during the recent election,” Roth said in the memo, obtained through a public records request. “We have been asked to report any disparaging treatment we have received during the last couple of months and any poor or retaliatory treatment that we receive in the future from Judiciary or probation employees.”

Roth declined to comment on what inspired his remarks about disparaging or retaliatory treatment.

“It is my understanding that the Judiciary is looking into the questionable ethical actions by its employees on their own and not as a result from a specific complaint from anyone in this office,” Roth continued in his memo.

Nakamura and Pasalo declined comment when contacted Tuesday, with Pasalo hanging up on the reporter. They didn’t respond to a question about whether they were disciplined for appearing in the ads.

Kagami, a deputy state attorney general, said Tuesday he hasn’t been notified about any possible wrongdoing in his campaign, although he’s aware of the memo.

“It’s something that never occurred to me that I did anything wrong,” Kagami said.

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The ad featuring Nakamura identified her as a Circuit Court clerk for 20 years and went on to say, Kagami “knows the law,” and “doesn’t waste the court’s time.” Both ads featured the employees’ photos and their titles with the Judiciary.

“I think there were some unfortunate judgment calls made by some people,” Roth said.

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