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Chief Justice calls on state to ‘join forces’ to solve homelessness, mental health crisis

Mark Recktenwald, the head of the state’s court system, has advocated for more funding for diversion programs.

Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald compared the looming challenges of solving the state’s mental health and homelessness crises to the giant North Shore waves facing Eddie Aikau, whose surfing competition last weekend was held for the first time in seven years.

The great surfer, lifeguard and Hokulea crew member disappeared after rowing out alone to get help for the vessel’s crew after it capsized between Oahu and Molokai in 1978.

“Just as Eddie would go, the three branches of government must be bold and courageous in finding solutions to the daunting challenges facing our community,” Recktenwald told a gathering of state lawmakers and guests, including Aikau, on Wednesday. ‘s brother, Clyde.

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Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald called for more funding for mental health treatment services in his first personal address from the bench since 2020. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

His speech focused on the judiciary’s accomplishments in the past year, including allowing court filings to be made electronically 24/7 and live streaming and archiving all state Supreme Court oral argument hearings.

He also thanked lawmakers for supporting projects such as Hale Kalele, a $91 million affordable housing project on Piikoi Street that also provides social services and shelter for youth, as well as a new $48 million civic center in Wahiawa, which will house a new district courthouse include. .

But he said more needs to be done. In particular, Recktenwald says the state needs more treatment beds and access to crisis intervention centers to provide care to those experiencing mental health problems.

“My feeling is that we have a long way to go, but areas where we have agreements should be the focus. The state has the resources,” Recktenwald said in a phone interview after his speech.

While treatment beds and crisis centers are run by agencies like the state Department of Health and not the judiciary, Recktenwald said he thinks it’s important to advocate for programs that can keep people out of the criminal justice system.

The Judiciary comes into play with its specialized treatment courts that work with service providers to keep defendants out of jail and other services that run out of the state court system.

Recktenwald highlighted a pilot program for women that allows them to keep their children while they participate in the court system’s diversion programs. The court is asking for $200,000 to continue the program.

It joins the women’s court pilot program, which the Legislature created last year to steer women, especially mothers, away from the traditional court system. About 20 women will be part of the initial pilot program this year, according to an implementation report.

Recktenwald also asked lawmakers to put money back into the budget for 30 positions that were defunded during the pandemic. He said this includes several judicial positions that were vacant when they were defunded, as well as other staff and probation officers.

“We have the ability to absorb it in the short term, but it affects our ability to provide services,” Recktenwald said.

The cost of financing those positions is again about $2.3 million. Karl Rhoads, chairman of the Senate Judiciary, said it is likely that the judiciary will get some of these positions funded again.

“Their questions aren’t that big in the grand scheme of things, and there’s no doubt that the court system is all caught up,” Rhoads said.

The court is also asking for $360,000 for a new Oahu District Court judge and staff to help ease the caseload in the Waianae, Pearl City, Wahiawa and Kaneohe courts. Currently, the courts are staffed by judges on a rotating basis.

One other point that Recktenwald highlighted during his speech was the diversity of the Judiciary. Women now account for 49% of full-time judges in the state, up from about 45% two years ago, when the Senate voted to reject a nominee for the Intermediate Court of Appeals, in part because of calls for greater diversity on the bench.

The makeup of the state’s Supreme Court is also expected to change drastically in the next few years. Associate Justices Paula Nakayama and Michael Wilson are stepping down, clearing the way for Gov. Josh Green to appoint their replacements.

And in 2025, Recktenwald will also reach mandatory retirement age, giving Green another court pick as well as the choice of who will be the next chief justice.

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