Chief justice calls on states to ‘join forces’ to solve homelessness, mental health crisis

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

Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Rechtenwald compared the looming challenges of solving the state’s mental health and homelessness crisis to the giant North Shore waves faced by Eddie Aikau, whose namesake surf contest last weekend was the first in seven years. was organized for the first time.

Big wave surfers, lifeguards and the Hokuleia crew went missing after paddling alone to get help for the ship’s crew after it sank between Oahu and Molokai in 1978.

“Like Eddie, the three branches of government must be bold and courageous in finding solutions to the pressing challenges facing our community,” Rechtenwald said Wednesday, addressing a gathering of state lawmakers and guests.

Chief Justice Mark Rechtenwald called for more funding for mental health treatment services during his first in-person address to the judiciary since 2020. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

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

He thanked lawmakers for supporting projects such as Hale Kalele, a $91 million affordable housing project on Pikoi Street, which also provides social services and shelter for teens, as well as a new $48 million civic center in Wahiawa, which features A new District Court building will be included. ,

But he said more needed to be done. Specifically, Rechtenwald says the state needs more treatment beds and access to crisis intervention centers to care for those experiencing mental health problems.

“My sense is that we have a long way to go, but there should be a focus on areas that we agree on. The state has the resources,” Rechtenwald said in a phone interview after his speech.

While treatment beds and crisis centers are run by agencies like state health departments and not the judiciary, Recktenwald said he thought it was important to advocate for programs that could keep people out of the criminal justice system.

The Judiciary works with its Special Remedies Courts to keep defendants out of prison and service providers and other services run outside the state court system.

Rechtenwald highlighted a probation program for women that allows them to keep their children while participating in the court system’s diversion programs. Judiciary is seeking $200,000 to keep the program going.

This is tied to the Women’s Court pilot program, which the Legislature created last year to help women, especially mothers, away from the traditional court system. According to an implementation report, around 20 women are going to be part of the initial pilot program this year.

Rechtenwald asked lawmakers to return money to the budget for 30 positions that were furloughed during the pandemic. He said they included several judge positions that were vacant at the time he was removed as well as other staff and probation officers.

“We have the capacity to absorb this in the short term, but it does impact our ability to provide services,” Rechtenwald said.

The cost of re-funding those positions is approximately $2.3 million. Senate Judiciary Chairman Carl Rhoads said it is likely the Judiciary will re-fund some of those positions.

“Their demands are not that big in the broad scheme of things, and there is no doubt that the court system is completely jammed,” Rhoads said.

The judiciary is also seeking $360,000 for a new Oahu district court judge and staff to help reduce caseloads in the Waianae, Pearl City, Wahiawa and Kaneohe courts. Currently, the Courts are staffed by judges on a rotating basis.

Another point Rechtenwald 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 to the Intermediate Court of Appeals, partly because of calls for more diversity on the bench. Was.

The makeup of the state Supreme Court is also expected to undergo drastic changes over the next several years. Associate Justices Paula Nakayama and Michael Wilson will retire, opening the way for Gov. Josh Green to appoint them.

And in 2025, Rechtenwald will also reach mandatory retirement age, leaving Greene to choose another court as well as elect the next chief justice.

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