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Hawaii Court Records

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How Does the Hawaii Supreme Court Work?

The Supreme Court of Hawaii is the highest court in the state of Hawaii, with final authority over the state’s judicial system. Supreme Court decisions are binding over all the lower courts that make up the Hawaii State Judiciary.

The Hawaii Supreme Court is the state’s highest appellate court. In exercising its appellate jurisdiction, the Supreme Court’s cases involve a review of rulings made by lower trial courts, to confirm that the trial court correctly applied the rule of law in its decision making. 

All appeals received by the Supreme Court are finalized using written records and court briefs from trials held by other courts. The court also considers evidence previously submitted in previous hearings. Note that the Supreme Court will not consider new evidence in making a decision. Also, the Hawaii Supreme Court may allow oral arguments in addition to a review of court documents. However, this does not happen in all cases.

The Hawaii Supreme Court hears appeals after applications for certiorari writs to the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals. The process should also involve an application to transfer a case from the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

In addition to its appellate jurisdiction, the Hawaii Supreme Court may also exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the following:

  • Complaints about elections
  • Creating rules of procedure to be applied by all Hawaii courts
  • Regulating the Hawaii state bar
  • Disciplinary cases involving judges and attorneys

The Supreme Court also attends to questions of law from the tax appeal court, circuit courts, and the land court. It may also exercise original jurisdiction over certified questions of law from federal courts.

There are four Associate Justices and one Chief Justice in the Hawaii Supreme Court. These judges are chosen through an assisted appointment process by the Hawaii Judicial Selection Commission. When there is a vacancy in the Supreme Court, the Judicial Selection Commission publicizes the vacancy and receives applications from interested persons. The Commission then reviews each application received and selects qualified nominees through a secret ballot.

After creating a shortlist of prospective judges, the Commission sends the list to the governor, who then makes a nomination. The list for each position must contain a minimum of four and a maximum of six names. Each selected judge serves the Hawaii Supreme Court for an initial ten-year term. Note that the governor’s appointees are subject to confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate. '

Suppose the governor does not appoint a name from the list within thirty days of receiving the list, or within ten days after the Senate rejects a previous appointment. In that case, the Judicial Selection Commission shall make an appointment from the list. However, if the Senate does not reject an appointment within thirty days after the governor’s selection, the appointment stands. This process may be repeated until a nominee is chosen. However, if the process fails, the Commission may make the appointment from its list without consent from the Senate.

After serving the ten-year term, interested judges may be retained in office. When a judge indicates a desire for retention, the Judicial Selection Commission must publicize the judge’s intention and receive all comments from persons who may be interested in the matter. The Commission must also investigate the facts of the judge’s tenure. Depending on the judge’s tenure and comments from the public, the Commission may recommend a judge’s retention.

Note that all prospective judges must meet the following requirements to qualify for judgeship:

  • Citizen of the United States
  • Resident in Hawaii
  • Licensed to practice law by the Hawaii Supreme Court for at least ten years before the nomination
  • Less than 70 years old at the time of appointment

Upon starting a tenure, an appointed judge may not engage in the practice of law, apply for or hold any other office, or hold a position of profit anywhere in the United States. Judges interested in retention must inform the Judicial Selection Commission at least six months to the tenure’s expiration. Judges who intend to retire must also notify the Commission within the same time frame. However, all judges must compulsorily retire at the age of seventy years.

The Hawaii State Judiciary enforces discipline among judges through its Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Commission is responsible for receiving and investigating all allegations of misconduct against a sitting judge. Complaints may also include allegations of disability if the judge is physically or mentally incapable of performing judicial functions.

All Hawaii judges are bound by the provisions of the Hawaii Revised Code of Judicial Conduct. The Code explains the responsibilities and functions of state judges, directly stating expectations and prohibited activity. Members of the public are encouraged to report any violation of the Hawaii Revised Code of Judicial Conduct to the Commission. Apart from the general public, judges are also required, under Rules 2.15(c) and (d) of the Revised Code of Judicial Conduct, to take appropriate action upon receiving credible information alleging that another judge engaged in misconduct.

After receiving a complaint and conducting an investigation, the Commission on Judicial Conduct may also conduct a hearing on judicial conduct allegations. If the Commission finds that there is merit to the complaint, it may recommend appropriate disciplinary action to the Hawaii Supreme Court. Disciplinary actions may include reprimand, retirement, suspension, or removal.

Anyone interested in visiting or contacting the Supreme Court for a hearing or record request may do so using the following details:

Hawaii Supreme Court
417 South King Street
Honolulu, HI 96813–2943
Phone: (808) 539–4919

The Hawaii State Judiciary makes appellate court Opinions and Orders available online. Interested persons may find Opinions and Orders through by year:

  • 2010 to present
  • 1998 to 2009

Requestors may also search all Opinions and Orders or view court applications. The following applications are available:

  • Application for Writ of Certiorari
  • Motion for Reconsideration
  • Petition for Writ of Mandamus

Note that all Supreme Court Opinions and Orders are posted online by 2:00 pm on the same day, except there are unforeseen circumstances. Note that the Hawaii Supreme Court usually issues an opinion or disposing order on a case within 12 months after an oral argument

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