Appellate court nominee has Kauai ties

  • Contributed photo State Rep. Dee Morikawa

LIHUE — State Rep. Dee Morikawa said Thursday she supports the nomination of First Circuit Court Judge Keith Hiraoka to sit on the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

Morikawa said Hiraoka has a strong understanding of how legislative intent is an important piece of making judgment on any law.

“He really does dig deep into the legislative process as to why we established the law the we did,” she said. “I like that about him. He does his research.”

Members of the state House interviewed Hiraoka Wednesday. It’s something that’s never been done before, and Morikawa credited House Speaker Scott Saiki for setting a new precedence with the way he runs the House.

“I’d like to give him credit for giving us the opportunity to meet these judges,” she said.

The Senate is expected to meet in a special session on Oct. 24-25 to consider the nomination.

In a press release, Saiki said the interview gave House leaders an opportunity to discuss topics such as the nominee’s judicial philosophy, the role of an appellate court, and the importance of the constitutional separation-of-powers doctrine.

“Although the Senate confirms judges, the House shares an interest in ensuring that judicial nominations are fully vetted,” he said

Hiraoka also has family ties to Kauai, which is something Morikawa didn’t know prior to Wednesday’s interview.

“It was a chicken-skin moment to know he was related to the Tanita family and the Shimabukuro family and they’re very influential families on Kauai,” she said.

House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti said it’s important to select the right person to the Intermediate Court of Appeals.

“Appellate judges play such a critical role in interpreting the laws crafted by the Legislature in accordance with principles outlined in the Hawaii State Constitution,” she said.

If confirmed, Hiraoka will serve on the court for 10 years.

In 2017, Hiraoka, 59, was named a First Circuit judge. If this appointment is approved, he’ll occupy one of six seats on the state Intermediate Court of Appeals, the second-highest court in Hawaii.

According to the state Judiciary website, Hiraoka began practicing law in 1983 and was the managing partner of Roeca Luria Hiraoka LLP immediately before his appointment to the bench. His primary practice areas were insurance coverage litigation and legal malpractice defense.

He is a graduate of Pearl City High school and the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and received his law degree from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.


Bethany Freudenthal, crime, courts and county reporter, can be reached at 652-7891 or

  1. Joe Public October 19, 2018 12:12 pm Reply

    Yeah, it gives me “chicken skin” too knowing that this guy that was just appointed as a judge in the 1st Circuit, is already being nominated to the court of appeals. No other more experienced judges in the State of Hawaii?

    Come on, this is a political favor.

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