Maui No Ka 'Oi Magazine July-August 2014 - July-August 2014
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10 Most Intriguing People

They inspire and infuriate us, make us cheer or boo. But there's no denying their commitment to these islands they call home.

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Photography by Amanda Cowan  |  Jason Moore  |  Tony Novak-Clifford

Doctor, lawyer, activist, judge, educator, comedienne . . . there’s something about Maui that attracts individuals who move to the beat of a different drummer. Of our ten, some are public servants whose accomplishments you may want to cheer or boo. Others stand up to the system and say it has to change—or find the courage to stand before an audience and try to make us smile. And while most of them could walk unrecognized down any Main Street USA, they have this in common: a passion for what they think is right for Maui County—whether others agree or not.

Joseph Cardoza
Man on the Bench

Second Circuit Court Judge Joseph Cardoza reminds you of a small-town judge in an old Hollywood movie.

His character wouldn’t be the cranky, imperious justice who rules the courtroom with an iron fist, nor would he be the buffoon who has no clue of what is going on as smart lawyers bulldoze the law.

No, Cardoza’s character would be the soft-spoken, honest man who finds himself in the middle of a legal maelstrom as big business squares off against the little guy. Working in the same town where he grew up, he wrestles with contentious hearings all day, then laces up his cleats to referee high school football games at night. As political pressure builds from the state capital, he weighs issues carefully before making his decision solely on the basis of law.

It was no movie, but at times last year it sure seemed like it, as the legal wrangling over the Hawai‘i Superferry took center stage in Cardoza’s Wailuku courtroom.

The drama began in early 2007 when Cardoza ruled against environmental groups trying to block the Superferry from starting service between O‘ahu and Maui. The large, fast interisland ferry had become a target for Neighbor Islanders who opposed it for a litany of reasons. Riding the full support of Hawai‘i Governor Linda Lingle, however, the ferry had sailed through all opposition. Cardoza’s ruling appeared to clear away the last hurdle.

And then in August, just days before the ferry was scheduled to begin service to Kahului Harbor, the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruled the state was wrong to waive an environmental impact assessment, since state funds were being used for Superferry upgrades at Maui’s only deep-draft harbor. The whole controversy was plopped back in Cardoza’s lap.

He ended up refereeing a month of sometimes contentious hearings. With high-powered ferry and state attorneys on one side of his courtroom, and veteran advocate Isaac Hall on the other, Cardoza handled the high-profile case as if it was second nature. He remained steady and calm and demanded civility from all involved. In spite of dealing with a busy docket, the death of his father, and his duties as one of Maui’s top football officials, Cardoza spent long hours preparing himself for the case. His rulings were decisive. Not once did    he seem surprised or caught off guard.

Exhibiting a flair for drama, or perhaps a desire for calm in his packed courtroom, Cardoza kept everyone on the edge of their seats before making his final ruling. For a full hour, and without giving an indication which way he would side, he explained the basis of his decision. He asked both sides to show respect and courtesy to each other.

In the face of intense political pressure, Cardoza ruled for Maui Tomorrow, the Sierra Club and the Kahului Harbor Coalition. He issued a temporary restraining order, requiring an EIS before the Superferry could dock on Maui.

Governor Lingle then called a special session of the Legislature to draft a bill allowing the Superferry to operate while the EIS was being done. Lingle signed the bill into law in November. Attorneys once again assembled in Cardoza’s courtroom where he followed the new law and lifted the ban on the Superferry. He later ruled that Superferry officials must pay their opponents’ legal fees.

Short of stature and unassuming in appearance, Judge Joe Cardoza stood tall in the middle of one of the island’s epic legal frays. Keeping personal feelings, political considerations and public opinion out of the mix, he let the law guide him—just like in a Hollywood movie.
—Matthew Thayer

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