Chief Justice Recktenwald addresses Law School graduates

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Beverly Creamer, (808) 389-5736
Media Consultant, William S. Richardson School of Law
Posted: May 18, 2015

Law School graduates are greeted by well-wishers at Andrews Amphitheatre on Sunday.
Law School graduates are greeted by well-wishers at Andrews Amphitheatre on Sunday.

With a rainbow above Andrews Amphitheatre and spring breezes billowing their black robes on Sunday, 118 UH Law School graduates listened to speakers urge them to fight injustice as they begin their law careers – and to find inspiration in Hawai‘i’s famed “1954 Revolution” that launched major social reforms in the islands.

Hawai‘i Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald told the William S. Richardson Law School’s 2015 graduates that their extraordinary pro bono service during their law training shows they have already embarked on the path of seeking equal access to justice for the underserved.

And Professor Linda Hamilton Krieger, chosen as faculty speaker by the graduating class, emphasized that law can be used as “an instrument for social justice,” citing how much still needs to be done in Hawai‘i, with a regressive tax system that “disadvantages the poor” along with the highest cost of living in the country.

“You are the branches (from the trunk) of that 1954 Revolution,” Krieger told the graduates, “and you have your work cut out for you in the years ahead.”

Bill Richardson, son of the Law School’s namesake, told the class his father had been both a tinkerer and a builder. He suggested they continue his legacy “to build a better Hawai‘i.”

It was Recktenwald who underscored the immense needs of low- and moderate-income people in Hawai‘i who don’t have equal access to the civil courts simply because they cannot afford attorneys.

“There is a crisis in our civil legal system,” he told the graduates. As a result, every year “thousands of people must represent themselves in our civil courts, trying to navigate a system that is foreign to the average layperson. Many of them simply give up.”

Recktenwald added that, although there is a right to an appointed counsel in criminal cases, with only a few exceptions, there is no such right in civil cases.  “And although there are legal services providers like the Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i who do an amazing job representing indigent clients, they have nowhere near enough resources to meet the need," he said.

The Chief Justice praised the Law School for the work it is already doing in assisting community organizations. “The Richardson Law School is a leader nationally in its commitment to pro bono service, and it’s a commitment that has come from the heart of the school, its students. In 1992, the school was the first in the nation to adopt a student-initiated pro bono service requirement.  All of the members of your class have fulfilled that requirement, with some giving more than 200 hours of their time to organizations as diverse as the Legal Aid Society, Volunteer Legal Services Hawai‘i, the Innocence Project, the Medical Legal Partnership for Children, and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, to name just a few.”

Speaking directly to the graduates, Recktenwald encouraged them to continue to be the ones to fight for equal justice:  “It is up to each of you, as lawyers, to guide us forward in that fight.”

The memorable afternoon began with a touching “Keiki Diploma Ceremony” in the Law School’s leafy courtyard, where the children of graduates received certificates in recognition of the youngsters' sacrificed time with their parents over years of classes.

During the program, student speakers representing the LLM, Evening and Day classes -- Jeneline Nicolas, Raine Arndt, Norman Wong and Joshua Michaels -- brought laughter and tears as they reminisced about how powerfully the time at Richardson had affected their lives.  

"We've grown, we've matured, but most of all, we've aged!" joked Michaels.  "How many of you have updated your glasses prescriptions since you began? And how many of you now need glasses?"  Later, in all seriousness, he added, "Let's never stop learning, let's never stop growing, and never give up on our dreams."

The joining of hands and singing of “Hawai‘i Aloha" closed the official graduation ceremony, after which a large, chaotic crowd of about 600 hugged, laughed, shared multiple lei, and snapped photos on the Andrews Amphitheatre lawn.

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