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Senators hear praise of Ige’s new appeals court nominee

HONOLULU — People on Wednesday praised Gov. David Ige’s latest nominee to serve on the Intermediate Court of Appeals, telling the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee that Sonja McCullen was highly qualified for the job.

The Senate last month voted down Ige’s first choice for the position, a white man, amid complaints that it had been decades since a Native Hawaiian had been appointed to the state’s appeals or supreme courts.

The committee was scheduled to vote on McCullen’s nomination on Thursday. The full Senate was due to follow on Friday.

McCullen is a Native Hawaiian and a Honolulu deputy prosecuting attorney.

Melody MacKenzie testified on behalf of the Native Hawaiian Bar Association saying that McCullen’s extensive experience as an appellate attorney would enable her to make a smooth transition to the appeals court and help the court address its case backlog.

She predicted McCullen would serve with diligence, competence and humility.

“She is a compassionate person of good moral character with excellent appellate experience,” MacKenzie said.

McCullen’s current boss, Honolulu Prosecutor Steve Alm, said he would hate to lose her in his office, saying she has been a “workhorse” on appeals cases.

“She’s down to Earth, she’s smart, she’s compassionate. She’s going to be the last one to toot her own horn,” Alm said.

McCullen previously served as a lawyer for United Public Workers and was a law clerk for Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Paula Nakayama. She spent nearly five years in her first career teaching Hawaiian studies and language at Waianae High School.

She earned her bachelor and law degrees from the University of Hawaii and graduated from high school on the Big Island. She told senators she is also of Korean, Japanese and Portuguese ancestry.

McCullen said she was from a working class family. Her father was an Aloha Airlines baggage handler and her mother a lei maker.

Ige had initially appointed Dan Gluck to the appeals court, selecting him from a list of names provided by the Judicial Selection Commission as required by state law.

Gluck attempted to withdraw his name from the confirmation process after large numbers testified against him, but doing so would have created confusion over how the next appointment would be made. The Senate went ahead and voted not to consent to his appointment, which allowed the governor to make another appointment.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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