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Hawai`i Legal History: Justices

A guide to materials that were formative in the legal history of Hawaii.

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Chief Justices of the Hawaii Supreme Court

Chief Justices

    1.  Kamehameha III 1840-1848

Kamehameha III (1814-1854) promulgated Hawaii's first constitution in 1840, which established the first chief judge of the Supreme Court, a position Kamehameha III then filled. He decided on a new land division in 1848, which became known as the Great Mahele.

    2.  William Little Lee 1848-1857 (Died in office.)

  • Acting - George M. Robertson 1855-1856

William Little Lee (b.1828 - d.1857) Lee, appointed by Kamehameha III, served as Hawaii's first chief justice of the Superior Court of Law and Equity from 1848 to 1857. Lee had a profound effect on the development of Hawaii's political system by establishing the ground work for the Mahele, drafting the Constitution of 1852 and writing Hawaii's first comprehensive criminal and civil codes. Lee was very active in the community serving as trustee of Punahou School and founder and president of the Royal Hawaiian Agricultural society.

    3.  Elisha Hunt Allen 1857-1877 (Resigned.)

Elisha Hunt Allen (b.1804 - d.1883) Selected United States Consul to Hawai`i in 1850, Allen resigned that post in 1853. He then received and accepted an offer from Kamehameha III to serve as Minister of Finance for the Hawaiian government. Allen succeeded William Lee as Chief Justice in 1857 and served until 1877. Much of his work aided in solidifying and clarifying the laws of that period. He served as Hawaiian Minister to Washington from 1870 to 1883, and was active in securing the Reciprocity Treaty for Hawai`i.

    4.  Charles Coffin Harris 1877-1881 (Died in office.)

Charles Coffin Harris (b.1822 - d.1881) Harris first arrived in Hawai`i enroute to the California gold rush. He served the Kingdom of Hawai`i for over 30 years in various capacities including Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He helped frame the 1864 Constitution and served as Hawai`i's first attorney general, a position that was created by the 1864 Constitution. Harris was appointed first associate justice in 1874, succeeded Allen as chief justice in 1877, and served until his death in 1881.

    5.  Albert Francis Judd 1881-1900 (Died in office.)

Albert Francis Judd (b.1838 - d.1900) Judd was the son of Kamehameha III's chief minister, Dr. Gerrit P. Judd. After graduating from Harvard Law School, he returned to Honolulu to start a private practice. Appointed attorney general in 1873, Judd became second associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1874. He rose to first associate justice in 1877, and was appointed chief justice in 1881. Serving 26 years as a member of the Supreme Court and 19 years as chief justice, his tenure was longer than any other justice on the Supreme Court.

    6.  Walter F. Frear 1900-1907 (Resigned.)

Walter Francis Frear (b.1863 - d.1948) Frear was the only person to hold the highest offices in both the judicial and executive branches of the territorial government. He was appointed judge of the First Circuit Court by Queen Lili`uokalani in January 1893, and in March 1893, Frear became associate justice of the Supreme Court under the provisional government. In 1900, he became chief justice of the Territory of Hawai`i until 1907, when he was appointed governor. A member of the commission which drew up the Organic Act, he was instrumental in gaining territorial status for Hawai`i.

    7.  Alfred S. Hartwell 1907-1911

Alfred Stedman Hartwell (b.1836 - d.1912) Hartwell was a brigadier general in the civil war and came to Hawai`i in 1868 at the urging of King Kalakaua to accept a commission as associate justice of the Supreme Court a position he held until 1874. For a few months in 1874, and later from 1876 through 1878, Hartwell served as attorney general. In 1904, he was appointed associate justice and in 1907, he became chief justice; a position he held until his retirement in 1911. In addition to his government service, Hartwell had a private practice and many persons, including King Kalakaua, studied law under him.

    8.  Alexander G.M. Robinson 1911-1918

Alexander George Morrison Robertson (b.1867 - d.1947) Robertson was the son of a distinguished associate justice of the Hawai`i Supreme Court and maintained family tradition as an outstanding jurist. In 1894, he was a delegate to the Hawaiian Constitutional Convention and served as a member of Governor Dole's staff. In 1895, he was appointed deputy attorney general of the Republic of Hawai`i and also served three terms in the House of Representatives. Robertson was appointed United States district judge in 1910. He became Hawai`i's chief justice in 1911, and was reappointed in 1916. In 1918, he resigned from the bench to pursue private practice.

    9.  James Leslie Coke 1918-1922 (first term)

James Leslie Coke (b.1875 - d.1957) Coke arrived in Hawai`i in 1898 to observe the ceremonies of Hawai`i's annexation to the United States. He began his practice in Wailuku, Maui and in 1908 was elected as a county attorney. Coke moved to Honolulu in 1909, represented O`ahu in the Territorial Senate in 1912, and became circuit court judge in 1916. He was appointed associate justice in 1917 and served as chief justice from 1918 to 1922. In 1935, he was again appointed chief justice, a position which he held until his retirement in 1941. Coke lectured to law classes in Japan at the urging of the Imperial Japanese government. He also worked with the Japanese Bar to set up a jury system in Japan.

   10.  Emil C. Peters 1922-1925

Emil Cornelius Peters (b.1877 - d.1961) Peters came to Hawai`i in 1900 and between the years 1903 and 1922, he served as deputy attorney general, attorney general and judge advocate of the Hawai`i National Guard. In 1922, he was appointed to a four-year term as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Peters later served as associate justice from 1935 through 1949. Several years later he reentered private practice where he was best known for his trust casework.

   11.  Antonio Perry 1926-1934

Antonio Perry (b.1871 - d.1944) Perry served as district magistrate of Honolulu from 1894 to 1896 when he was named judge of the First Circuit Court. In 1900 he was appointed to a four-year term as associate justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory. After returning to private practice, Perry was again appointed as associate justice and served from 1909 to 1914. Following another period of private practice, he was chosen for a third term as associate justice in 1922 and in 1926 he was elevated to chief justice and served until 1934.

   12.  James Leslie Coke 1935-1941 (second term)

James Leslie Coke (b.1875 - d.1957) Coke was again appointed chief justice in 1935, a position which he held until his retirement in 1941. Coke lectured to law classes in Japan at the urging of the Imperial Japanese government. He also worked with the Japanese Bar to set up a jury system in Japan.

   13.  Samuel B. Kemp 1941-1950

Samuel Barnet Kemp (b.1871 - d.1962) Kemp came to Hawai`i in 1916 after practicing law in Texas and serving as judge in Coke County. He was an assistant United States attorney until 1917 when he was appointed circuit court judge. Kemp was appointed associate justice of the Territorial Supreme Court in 1918 and served until 1922. In 1936 he served as attorney general. In 1938 he was reappointed associate justice and served as chief justice from 1941 to 1950 when he retired from the bench.

   14.  Edward Armstrong Towse 1951-1956

Edward Armstrong Towse (b.1905 - d.1973) Towse had one of the most spectacular ascents in the history of the local bench. Appointed assistant United State Attorney for Hawai`i from 1932 to 1934, he then became circuit court judge in 1949. By 1950 he was appointed associate justice of the Territorial Supreme Court and in 1951, he was elevated to the position of chief justice. Towse served as chief justice until 1956.

   15.  Philip L. Rice 1956-1959

Philip L. Rice (b.1886 - d.1974) Rice's interest in law began during his tenure as clerk of the Fifth Circuit Court on the island of Kaua`i. Admitted to the University of Chicago as a special student in 1914, he completed the three year course in 1916. Returning to Hawai`i he was admitted to the Bar and established a practice in Lihu`e. He served as circuit court judge on Kaua`i for twelve years. Named associate justice of the Territorial Supreme Court on February 15, 1955, he served until April 7, 1956 when he became chief justice. Rice served until July 27, 1959, and was the last chief justice of the Territory of Hawai`i.

   16.  Wilfred Chomatsu Tsukiyama 1959-1965

Wilfred Chomatsu Tsukiyama (b.1897 - d.1966) The son of immigrant Japanese parents who came to Hawai`i to work on sugar plantations, Tsukiyama was the state of Hawai`i's first chief justice. He began his legal career with the firm Huber, Kemp, and Stainback during the 1920's and later served as a City and County of Honolulu attorney. First elected to the Territorial Senate in 1946, he served as president of the Senate from 1949 to 1954, and minority floor leader from 1955 to 1959. Tsukiyama was the first Japanese-American to head a state Supreme Court. He resigned in 1965.

   17.  William S. Richardson 1966-1982

William Shaw Richardson (b.1919) Richardson began his legal career in the Army's Judge Advocate General Corps serving until 1946. From 1956 to 1962, he was chairperson of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Hawai`i. Richardson was elected Lieutenant Governor of the state of Hawai`i in 1962, a position he held until his appointment as chief justice in 1966. He served as chief justice for 16 years until his retirement in 1982. One of his greatest contributions to the state was the founding of the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai`i. See The Richardson Years by Carol Dodd in the Law Library  DU627.83.R53 D63 1985.

   18. Herman T.F. Lum 1982-1993

Herman T.F. Lum (b.1926) Lum was appointed chief justice in 1983 and served on Hawai`i's highest court until his retirement in 1993. Prior to serving as chief justice, Lum's former positions included: associate justice of the Hawai`i Supreme Court, senior judge of the Family Court, circuit judge of the First Circuit, United State attorney, chief clerk and chief attorney of the Hawai`i State House of Representatives, and assistant public prosecutor.

   19.  Ronald T.Y. Moon 1993-2010

Ronald T.Y. Moon (1940- ) was appointed to the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice in 1990 by Governor John D. Waihee III.  On March 31, 1993, he was sworn in as Chief Justice for his first term. His second term on the court would have ended on March 30, 2013, if not for his mandatory retirement on March 30, 2010, due to reaching the age of 70.  Moon earned a B.S. at Coe College in psychology and sociology. He went on to the University of Iowa College of Law for his law degree.  He began his career as a law clerk for former Chief Judge Martin Pence of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. He also worked for the prosecutor's office from 1966 to 1968. After this, he worked for four years as a legal associate and then became a partner of the firm Libkuman, Ventura, Moon, and Ayabe. In 1982, he was appointed to the Circuit Court, where he judged until his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1990.

   20.  Mark E. Recktenwald 2010-

Mark E. Recktenwald (1955- ) joined the Supreme Court as an Associate Justice on May 11, 2009, when Governor Linda Lingle appointed him to replace retired Associate Justice Steven Levinson.  He previously served for two years (2007-2009) as chief judge of the Intermediate Court of Appeals, during which time he participated in deciding more than 250 cases on their merits and authored 10 published opinions.  Prior to his appointment to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, Recktenwald served as the director of the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, as an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Hawai`i, and as an attorney in private practice. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his law degree from the University of Chicago.