LIHUE — A Kauai lawyer was recognized Friday by the Hawaii State Bar Association for fighting for social justice in the face of adversity.
Daniel Hempey, of the Lihue firm De Costa Hempey Attorneys at Law, was honored at the HSBA’s annual convention in Honolulu, where he received the Champion for Social Justice Award for “courageous legal work in the face of public controversy that helps promote the interests of justice and preserves the integrity of the judiciary.”
Among the previous recipients of the award are former Hawaii Lt. Gov. Douglas Chin, who was given the award in 2018 for successfully challenging President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and retired Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Steven Levinson, who was a co-recipient of the award in 2010 for his role in the decades-long legal battle for gay rights and marriage equality.
“Mr. Hempey is the kind of lawyer we all wanted to be when we enrolled in law school,” said Michelle Premeaux, an attorney with De Costa Hempey, in a letter to the bar association nominating Hempey for the award.
In the nomination letter, Premeaux described Hempey as a person who “will fight for the client to the end, regardless of ability to pay or the popularity of the position,” when he finds an injustice.
“I will never forget the day a transgender woman came into Mr. Hempey’s office, completely distraught that a hotel was canceling a drag performance one week before the planned event,” Premeaux wrote, saying that when the woman said the hotel told her she wasn’t welcome, “Hempey didn’t think twice.”
“He immediately went into overdrive and was adamant that the show would go on as planned, must go on, because justice required it,” she said in the nomination letter. “Because of his stubbornness and inability to give up, the show did go on.”
Hempey received the award for his work on cases spanning nearly a decade.
He spent over four years challenging the conviction of a man whose trial was unconstitutionally delayed, eventually prompting the Hawaii Supreme Court to hand down a 2018 decision that forced trial courts across the state to revise procedures for ensuring the right to a speedy trial.
In 2017, he successfully challenged the use of anticipatory search warrants by police departments in Hawaii, resulting in an opinion published by the state Supreme Court establishing constitutional protections against the practice.
The following year, he won another case before the Hawaii Supreme Court, ending a four-year legal battle over the conviction of a man whose trial was unconstitutionally delayed. That case also ended in a state Supreme Court opinion that changed the status quo in the Hawaii judicial system, forcing trial courts across the state to revise procedures for ensuring defendants’ rights to a speedy trial.
Hempey won an appeal in 2015, confirming the right of Native Hawaiians to hunt pigs in the traditional manner on undeveloped land, and is currently defending a local immersion school in a case before the state civil rights commission over challenges to the school’s use of pule, a traditional Hawaiian prayer or blessing.
“Day in and day out, Mr. Hempey — often at his own expense, and the expense of his law firm — seeks to promote the interests of justice,” the nomination letter continued.
“Hempey’s work to promote the interests of justice and preserve the integrity of the judiciary, is particularly necessary and requires a particular willingness to improve the judicial system, despite backlash from both the court system itself and the public at large,” Premeaux’s letter concluded.