Last Thursday, December 13, 2012, the HSBA Appellate Section topped of its first (and very successful year) with its end of year luncheon (a joint meeting with the HSBA's Litigation Section). Our guest at the meeting was Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.
Chief Justice Recktenwald gave an informative speech which he graciously agreed to share below. Mahalo again to everyone who made 2012 a success, and a special mahalo again to Chief Justice Recktenwald and the judges and justices of the Hawaii Appellate Courts for their support!
Remarks of Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald
HSBA Appellate Section - 2012 Annual Luncheon
Thursday, December 13, 2012, Plaza Club
Aloha and good afternoon. I’d like to thank the HSBA Appellate and Litigation Sections for inviting me here today, and I’d especially like to thank Rebecca Copeland and Elijah Yip for all of their hard work as chairs of the respective sections.
It has been a fantastic first year for the Appellate Section, with accomplishments including (1) preparing the appellate practice manual (2) organizing a number of forums and panel discussions, including the program at the HSBA Bar Convention in September, and (3) issuing the section’s monthly newsletter. It has taken a lot of hard work to accomplish all of this in the short time that the section has been in existence, and I’d like to extend our deep appreciation to everyone who has joined in this effort.
The Litigation Section also has sponsored a great series of meetings this year on topics that are highly relevant to the practice of law in Hawaii, such as e-discovery and social media, and I’d like to thank the section’s leadership for their hard work in keeping the members up to-date on these evolving topics. The work of both sections has helped to elevate the level of practice in Hawaii, and has been of great assistance to our courts.
We have some of the judiciary’s appellate staff attorneys here, some of whom work with the Appellate Section. They are Elizabeth Zack, Matthew Chapman, Dan Kunkel, Natalie Younoszai, and Randy Pinal.
I wanted to start today by highlighting the ways that the judiciary has been working to make the judicial process more open and accessible to the public. One such initiative is our Courts in the Community program, under which the Supreme Court will, on occasion, hold oral argument in high schools. Last week, we held our second such argument–-this time on Maui. As part of this program, our Judiciary History Center worked with the Department of Education, the Richardson School of Law, and the Maui County Bar Association to develop a lesson plan for students who attended the argument. Prior to the court convening on campus, students had the opportunity to learn about the judicial system and the appellate process, and to participate in or observe a moot court exercise involving the actual case that was argued.
Almost 500 students from seven high schools on Maui attended our oral argument at Baldwin High School. As far as we can tell, this was the first time that the Supreme Court has held argument on Maui since the mid-1840s, and it certainly was the largest audience I’ve seen attend an oral argument. Afterwards, the members of the court met with students to answer questions about the judiciary and the appellate system, and then joined them for lunch. The response from students and faculty was incredibly positive. In fact, the students gave the justices a standing ovation when we took the stage for the question and answer session. Of course, we learned later that they had been instructed to stand every time we came on stage, but we like to think it meant they really, really enjoyed the oral argument.
We deeply appreciate the support of the Maui County Bar, the Richardson School of Law, and the Hawaii State Bar Association, which enabled us to provide this unique educational opportunity for so many students on Maui. I’d also like to acknowledge those members of the county bar who went into the schools to work with students on the case, the Richardson students who helped develop the lesson plan, and the HSBA, which provided funding for buses and bento lunches for the students. We probably violated a number of DOE regulations by bringing in bentos, but the football players really loved it.
Our Courts in the Community program is a great example of the judiciary partnering with other stakeholders to address a significant need, such as providing opportunities for civic education for our young people. During the past year, another area where we have been successful in bringing together various stakeholders has been our efforts to increase access to justice. Every week, hundreds of our fellow citizens come before our courts who cannot afford a lawyer to represent them in their civil legal cases, including divorces, landlord-tenant disputes, actions to obtain a restraining order to prevent domestic violence, and foreclosures or collections matters. Here on Oahu, for example, we had more than 4,000 divorce cases filed last year–in nearly 60% of them, neither party had an attorney, and in an additional 26%, only one party had legal counsel.
Fortunately, we have many people in Hawaii who are willing to devote their time and expertise to ensuring that all our citizens have meaningful access to the civil legal system. Just over two years ago, a group of about 20 of them met in a conference room in the State Capitol to talk about a new idea–- opening something called self-help centers in our courthouses, where attorneys would volunteer their time to provide information about court processes and procedures to those individuals who could not afford an attorney and who therefore had to represent themselves in court. From that humble beginning, the idea caught fire. The first such center was opened in our courthouse on Kauai in fall, 2011. Since then, we’ve opened centers in Hilo and Wailuku, as well as here on Oahu. The Oahu centers are called Access to Justice rooms, and are located at district court on Alakea Street and at Family Court in Kapolei.
We now have centers operating in every circuit of the state. In two short years, we’ve gone from an idea being talked about by some people in a conference room of the Capitol, to a network of centers from Hilo to Lihue providing information and assistance to people whose voices might not otherwise be heard. So far, these centers have helped more than 850 people.
The cost to the public? Almost nothing. The judiciary’s main contribution has been the rooms used for the centers. Members of the bar have been contributing their time pro bono, the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii has been providing training for volunteer attorneys and providing administrative support, the Hawaii State Bar Association has provided insurance coverage and supplies, and the Access to Justice Commission has helped to coordinate the effort.
Volunteering at these centers is a great way to provide pro bono service. The Honolulu district court Access to Justice room is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., and the Kapolei room is open at lunchtime on the first and third Thursday of every month. Several firms– Ayabe Chong, Cades Schutte, Carlsmith Ball and Goodsill- have stepped forward and committed to staffing the Honolulu district court Access to Justice room for an entire month each in 2013. We appreciate their commitment and that of all the attorneys who have volunteered their time and expertise since these centers opened.
We are also working with the Appellate Section and the Access to Justice Commission to create an appellate pro bono program, which would match pro se parties who cannot afford an attorney with attorneys willing to provide pro bono representation in civil appeals. The program has the possibility of improving access to justice and appellate practice in three ways: first, otherwise unrepresented parties will have the benefit of legal counsel; second, attorneys who volunteer in the program may have the opportunity to argue a case before our appellate courts; and finally, the courts will benefit from more thorough briefing of the issues than they may receive from pro se litigants. The working group has developed draft protocols for bringing cases into the program, and is in discussions to make this program a reality. I’d like to acknowledge VLSH, the HSBA, Justice Acoba, Chief Judge Nakamura, Dew Kaneshiro, Rebecca Copeland, Matthew Chapman, Brandon Segal, and Audrey Stanley for their hard work on this project.
We also are continuing our work to make the judiciary more open and accessible to the bar, and responsive to the needs of those we serve. One example of this was the Bench-Bar Conference, which was held in conjunction with the HSBA’s convention in September. 19 judges and 93 attorneys in civil and criminal practice attended the conference to discuss topics relating to the improvement of the administration of justice in the state courts. The participants discussed a wide range of topics, including the pros and cons of court appearances by teleconference, concerns regarding the upcoming expansion of e-filing to the circuit courts, and the use of electronic devices, such as smart phones and iPads, in the courtroom. The conference provided the judiciary invaluable feedback on our programs and the challenges we face, and we are already considering some of the proposals that were discussed. We are excited about the momentum the conference has created, and I’d like to thank everyone who participated. I’d also like to acknowledge the HSBA’s Judicial Administration Committee for its hard work in making this conference a success.
Many of the initiatives I’ve mentioned today came during a time when our resources were significantly restrained, and that is not a coincidence. Because of these difficult economic times, the judiciary has had to become more cost effective in providing justice. We’ve done that through two strategies: first, by innovating to find new solutions to longstanding challenges, and second, by bringing people and resources together to address those challenges collaboratively. Because of our role in deciding the cases that come before us, we have a unique opportunity to provide leadership and a focus that might not otherwise exist.
In closing, these difficult times have presented the judiciary with the opportunity to rethink how we do business. As a result, this has been a period of innovation and promise for our judicial system. The commitment of our judges and staff has been unwavering, even during these difficult economic times. With our strong partners in the community, such as the Appellate and Litigation Sections of the bar, I know we can move forward this coming year in providing justice for all in our community.
Thank you again for all of your contributions to the administration of justice in Hawaii Aloha, and I look forward to answering your questions.