Lee Cataluna: Judging judges is a poor way to play

"Waters is disarmingly friendly, quick to make a joke, kinetic and loose-limbed. Ozawa is surprisingly prickly, quick to take offense and known for his displays of anger more than personal warmth." Star Advertiser 2-1-19

There was a T-shirt being sold at the Aloha Stadium Swap Meet a few years back bearing the words, “If you losing the game, fasi the ref.” Even if you don’t know that “fasi” is a Samoan word for “smack,” the context makes it clear. The irreverent statement had a rebellious charm to it. Presumably (hopefully), no refs were fasi’d as a result of the shirts.

But that humorous suggestion of turning on the judges when the game isn’t going in your favor has gone from a joke on a shirt to a shameless political tactic.

Some football fans are fuming because both Super Bowl teams got to the big game after questionable calls by game officials; President Donald Trump howls about “Obama Judges” in the nations’ courts; and there is the sense across the country that judges are either on “our side” or “the other side” with no room for the ideal of impartiality.

And way down over here on this small island in the middle of the Pacific, Trevor Ozawa questions whether three Hawaii Supreme Court judges should have recused themselves after they ruled that he was going to have to campaign again for a City Council seat he thought he had already won. (By 22 votes.) (Aw, c’mon.)

“As the highest court in the state, the Supreme Court must have no perceptions of impropriety,” Ozawa said. “However, the amount of conflict that this court has with my opponent is outrageous.”

So what’s the outrageous conflict that Ozawa feels favored his opponent, candidate Tommy Waters? One judge was Waters’ boss back in the day. Another judge has a clerk who rents a house from a Waters supporter. And Waters served on the nine-member state judicial commission when the governor appointed two of the judges.

Aw, c’mon. Outrageous is when the judge is your dad. These kind of manini connections are just how things are in a small island state, and they don’t necessarily add up to bias.

Ozawa and Waters, both graduates of Kamehameha Schools Kapalama, both attorneys, could not be more different in temperament. Waters is disarmingly friendly, quick to make a joke, kinetic and loose-limbed. Ozawa is surprisingly prickly, quick to take offense and known for his displays of anger more than personal warmth. It’s apt that Ozawa’s main complaint about the Hawaii Supreme Court ruling was that Waters has too many friends in the Judiciary.

It would have been so much more dignified if Ozawa had said, “I don’t agree with the ruling, but I respect the court and our team believes that we have the support of the district. I look forward to once again going out into my community, delivering our message and providing, beyond the shadow of a doubt and by more than a toad’s hair of 22 votes, that District 4 believes I am the best person to represent them.”

Ozawa doesn’t have to fasi the ref. He didn’t lose and the game isn’t over. He should be focused on going back out there and trying to win decisively.

 

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