by Andrew Walden
James Ashford has been nominated to the 1st Circuit Court by Chief Justice Recktenwald from a list submitted by the Judicial Selection Commission.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing August 2nd and deferred action until August 5. A Special Session of the Senate would be required to confirm the nomination.
Judiciary Chair Clayton Hee used this testimony as justification for deferring action.
* * * * *
Hee Operative Behind Complaint Against Judicial Nominee
HR: Honolulu attorney James Wright submitted testimony just hours before Friday’s hearing, criticizing Ashford for his ethics and actions involving one of Wright’s clients six years prior.
Wright shared critique only with Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee Chair Clayton Hee, and never showed up at either the Friday confirmation hearing, or the follow up hearing on Monday, so other senators on the committee to question his story.
Wright donated a substantial amount of money to Hee in previous campaign years.
Wright also is the attorney for Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike III Kawānanakoa, a political ally and generous campaign donor of Hee.
read ... Typical Hee Trick
* * * * *
Testimony of James H. Wright
Nomination of James H. Ashford
Friday, August 2, 2013
I am James H. Wright and I was admitted to practice law in the State of Hawaii on May 26; 1987. I believe the information provided in this letter and the attached information may be useful to you in considering the nomination of James H. Ashford to become a Judge of the District Court.
Mr. Ashford and his firm Cades Schutte represented Plaintiff Martha Lee Ruggles In First Circuit Court Civil Number 07-1-1619-08 SSM. I represented all of the named defendants. This matter was a dispute between a real estate broker and her clients concerning a commission.
Mr, Ashford attempted to serve the Complaint by Certified Mail, Restricted Delivery on my client Defendant Lawrence Ronco. Mr. Ronco was in Florida at the time the letter was delivered and the postal worker asked his office manager to sign for it who did so without authorization.
By email on September 21, 2007, at 7:28 am I promptly advised Mr. Ashford that Mr. Ronco had not signed for the certified letter. He responded at 10 am the same day saying that he considered service as "achieved" and would proceed to entry of default and default judgment if an answer was not filed. He filed an Affidavit of Service that day as well at 3:40 pm which he signed on September 21.
Mr. Ashford falsely represented to the court that the Complaint and Summons were delivered to Mr. Ronco and that he had signed the return receipt.
I spoke to Mr. Ashford and he was unwilling to withdraw or correct the false affidavit. He was strident in his insistence that he was going to proceed notwithstanding the failure to properly serve Mr. Ronco. After multiple efforts to persuade him to change his mind I reported his actions to his firm via email to Cades Schutte senior partner Jeffrey Portnoy on September 28, 2007. I subsequently provided copies of relevant materials to Mr. Portnoy.
After Mr. Portnoy's involvement, Mr. Ashford relented and attempted to serve Mr. Ronco personally at his Boston office. Service was again improper. The description of the person served did not match Mr. Ronco but it did match his office manager Mr. Dion. I had provided copies of Mr. Ronco's and Mr. Dian's driver's licenses to Mr. Ashford. Mr. Ashford did proceed to file for a default against Mr. Ronco based on the defective personal service. However, he did not attempt to enforce. While I received permission to accept service for my clients I did so. I filed answers for all of them without objection from Mr. Ashford. The case settled on reasonable terms for both parties.
Mr. Ashford was admitted to the bar on October 21, 1988. At the time of the events in the fall of 2007, he had nearly 20 years of experience. We all make mistakes but his conduct was not inadvertent; it was willful.
Before signing an affidavit Mr. Ashford had the obligation to check the signature postal receipt. it is not clear but it obviously is not Lawrence Ronco's. He had in his possession documents with Mr. Ronco's signature which demonstrated the signature on the receipt was not that of the person who was being served.
If his initial actions could be excused as an oversight, once I advised him on September 21, 2007, that Mr, Ronco had not signed for the Complaint and Summons, he should not have filed the Affidavit of Service. His position that restricted delivery ensured that the addressee had, in fact signed for it is laughable. Other than a neophyte, no one could honestly take that position because it is exceedingly common that postal receipt cards are not signed by the person for whom they are intended.
I have had problems with service by mail-l think any attorney who does litigation has had the same experience. The ethical response is to try again, not to proceed in violation of Hawaii law and court rules .
The problems with the subsequent personal service are serious but more sloppy than willful. While he obtained a default based on it, he backed off immediately when confronted unlike the previous episode with service by mail and I did not have to report him to his firm.
The legal system operates in many ways on an "honor system." The court clerics and judges have to be able to rely on representations made by attorneys. The system would collapse if matters such as service of legal process required the judiciary to verify what members of the bar say is true. As attorneys we are officers of the court and have at least a minimal level of obligation to work within the clearly established rules for our conduct.
In my 25 years of legal practice in Hawaii I have never had an experience such as that with Mr. Ashford. I was troubled by what he did and wondered if simply reporting him to the firm was sufficient. I told him at the time that the only reason I did not file an Office of Disciplinary Counsel complaint was that his late father had been kind to me in a matter in which represented aligned clients.
I have attached Mr. Ashford's Affidavit of Service and the relevant emails.
James H. Wright
745 Fort Street, Suite 1925
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813