By BJ Reyes
The Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee met Friday to vet the nomination of attorney James A. Ashford as a judge for the District Court of the First Circuit (Oahu), but delayed a vote on confirmation until next week.
Although virtually all of the testimony submitted on Ashford's behalf was positive, Sen. Clayton Hee (D, Heeia-Laie-Wailaua), the committee chairman, noted there was at least one late submission in opposition, focusing on a procedural matter that led to Ashford's filing of a false affidavit in a 2007 case involving a real estate transaction.
Ashford, a partner in the law firm of Cades Schutte, had attempted to file a complaint with a defendant out of state via certified mail. The letter was received, but the defendant did not sign for it. Instead, an office manager, who was not authorized to sign for the mail, signed and returned the letter's certification. Although the defendant's attorney had notified Ashford that the receipt was not signed by his client, the affidavit ultimately was filed without the required signature.
When questioned on the matter, Ashford acknowledged the mistake and said in hindsight he now agreed that he should have exercised better judgment.
Said Hee afterward:
"We’ll work from there. It’s to the nominee’s credit that he’s not defiant, but rather agrees that he should have checked. ...
"This position is to preside where judgment is critical over others. The consequences of which are very profound and that’s the basis for this question.
"It is at least of some concern that this issue was not disclosed by the nominee to, as far as I know, any member of the Judiciary Committee, the Judicial Selection Commission, the Hawaii Bar Association and the Chief Justice.
"I presume he felt it wasn’t that important. Well, I think he now understands the gravity of poor judgment."
Hee said members would need to weigh the issue over the weekend before deciding his fitness to preside on the court, adding that other may now also come forward to either support or oppose Ashford's nomination.
The Senate is set to meet in special session next week to formally receive the nomination by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald. The Judiciary and Labor Committee would then resume and vote. If approved by the committee, Ashford's nomination would go to the full Senate before the end of the week.