"Supporting the Law Enforcement Agencies of our State, and helping to educate and empower the public for a safer community."

He’s one of the most well known and visible figures in Hawaii. Turn on the TV or radio, open a local newspaper, and chances are you’ll see his name-- just not in the “Seen around Town” society columns or “People in the News” segment. Outside his office, he tries his best to blend in and go about life with his family; catch a movie, enjoy the evening at a nice restaurant. The nature of his job demands a high level of public anonymity. And while he’ll probably never open his home to “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” he gladly invites you for a private tour of his workplace.
Judge Ezra and Jeanie
Judge David Ezra with HMW Publisher Mary Jean Castillo-Barkley in Ezra's office at the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building.

His workplace is fairly large by Hawaii standards. With an office down the hall, he’s much like any company foreman. But he doesn’t manufacture widgets. He oversees Justice.

As a Chief Judge for the Hawaii District of the U.S. Court’s Ninth District, David Alan Ezra must insulate himself from much of the goings on in the community. He’s careful about what functions he attends, who he meets with, and where he is seen. Anything considered remotely political is strictly off limits. He takes his position seriously and ardently strives for an image of judicial neutrality. Some may deem this social posture as aloof, withdrawn. But to Hawaii’s Chief Federal jurist, it’s necessary.

“Federal Judges may not everengage in any political activity, may not make any campaign contributions nor attend campaign functions,” said Ezra. “There are a good many socialfunctions that I’m invited to attend but unable to do so because of my position.”

The principle of insulation is essential, says Ezra, to avoid any potential appearance ofconflict of interest and to preserve the integrity of the Court. He also says that receiving lifetime appointments as opposed to having to seek election helps maintain that integrity.

“When I studied law in Texas, some judges had to run for office,” Ezra recalled. “Several states have that system. Judges actively solicit contributions from lawyers and the public. I’m not saying that’s good or bad, but I certainly feel more comfortable with the appointment process.

And certainly that is true at the federallevel.” As Chief Judge, its Ezra’s job to oversee the administrative aspects of the courts, assign cases, and act as a spokesperson for the courts. In addition, he must maintain his own individual case load. He’s quick to point out, though, that he doesn’t have control over the actions or rulings of any other Federal Judge.

“Individual judges are independent Constitutional officers and I do not get involved in their legal decisions,” said Ezra.

If being Hawaii’s top Federal Adjudicator wasn’t already a demanding workload, Ezra was elected in 2002 as a Ninth Circuit representative to the Judicial Conference of the United States, the top policy-making body for the nation’s federal courts. Ezra, who likens his three-year-term to “the judicial equivalent of serving in the Senate,” welcomes the additional workload, admitting it’s taxing, but extremely rewarding.

“I’m honored at being selected for the position,” said Ezra. “I’m the first Hawaii Judge ever to serve on the Judicial Conference and it is truly a privilege. In order to serve, you have to be elected by your fellow Federal Judges. My selection was both humbling as well as a very gratifying experience. The Judicial Conference is the body that actually runs the Federal Courts system, and it’s exciting to be an active voice in that process,” said Ezra.

In the Judicial Conference, each of the nation’s 13 judicial circuits elects a chief circuit judge and representative to a conference headed by the U.S, Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. The Ninth Circuit is the largest of the 13 federal circuits and includes all federal courts in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. As the largest geographical District in the U.S. Court system, Ezra says it’s probably also one of the most politically diverse as well. While the Ninth Circuit is often labeled one of the most liberal in the nation, it also includes many “red states,” and many of those tend to lean toward conservative policy.

“We probably have the most diverse district as far as the politics of the various states,” said Ezra. “But I think that results in a positive influence because it makes for an interesting and vibrant dialog of opinions, with a dynamic exchange of ideals.”

In the winter of 1987 Ezra was nominated by President Ronald Reagan to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii. He was confirmed the following spring, becoming the youngest federal judge ever to be appointed in Hawaii history. Ezra was 40-years-old at the time of his selection. A graduate of St. Louis High School, Ezra briefly attended Chaminade and U.H. Manoa before attending St. Mary’s University, where he majored in business administration and later received his law degree, graduating at the top of his class. After a seven-year hitch in the U.S. Army, Ezra went into private practice in Honolulu. Since his appointment, Ezra has handled numerous high profile cases in Hawaii and throughout the country.

Talking to Judge Ezra about his responsibilities is much like a watching a TV commercial. Just when you think you have everything in one package, there is the, “wait, there’s even more” clause. You wonder, “Does this man ever sleep?” His dark hair and moustache seem to naturally pepper with gray as he adds to his caseload.

“In addition to being Hawaii’s Chief Federal Judge and my position on the Judicial Conference, I am also a member of the Committee on the Administration of the U.S. Bankruptcy System, on which I chair the long-range sub-committee,” said Ezra.

He’s also a member of the governing body of the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, as well as a member of the Executive Committee of the Federal Judges Association. In addition, he sits on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by designation. “Needless to say, I wear a lot of different hats,” he quips.

As a Federal Judge, Ezra is an independent guardian of the U.S. Constitution and bases his decisions upon his interpretation of it. He and the other Hawaii Federal Judges handle cases that deal with U.S. law within the District’s jurisdiction. Hawaii law is administered by our State Court system which is directed by our State Constitution. But if someone says a bill passed by the State Legislature violates the Federal Constitution, Ezra and other Federal Judges come into the picture. Ezra, a constitutional moderate, feels strongly about the principle of states rights and weighs the matter carefully while considering both Federal and State law.

“In cases like these, we really try to avoid making Constitutional decisions if we can, because we give great deference to State’s rights and law in this Republic,” Ezra said. “Judges shouldn’t be setting aside laws passed by a state legislature and signed by a Governor based on an ideological whim by the judge. The judge may not personally like the bill, but unless there is a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution, we shouldn’t get involved. Federal Judges can’t just say, “Gee, I don’t like that law so I’m going to decide it’s unconstitutional. In order for us to rule, somebody else has to bring the case into Federal Court.”

As a guardian of the Constitution, Ezra often considers matter of free speech. Ironically, his position dictates that he can’t enjoy some of the very freedoms he defends.

“There are canons of professional ethics that we must and should follow,” said Ezra. “We are under a lot of restrictions about what we can and can’t talk about. One of my most important jobs is to uphold the right of free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution. But by being a Federal Judge, I’ve largely given up that right to speak out on issues I may be concerned about. That’s the way it has to be.”

Judges, especially those at the Federal level, have differing philosophies on how the Constitution should be interpreted. There are the “originalist’s” like Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who feel the document should be interpreted as is, in light of what the founding fathers meant at the time it was drafted. The other school of thought views the constitution as a “living document,” evolving to meet the standards of a changing society. Ezra sees himself as a moderate in this area.

“I’m pretty “middle-of-the-road” in terms of my views in respect to the constitution,” said Ezra. “You should not change the Constitution, its meaning, or import simply based on what the social tendencies and tastes of the day are. I’m also cognizant that back when the Constitution was drafted by our founding fathers, I seriously doubt they would have or could have known what our modern life would be about. We presently deal with things like electronic privacy and the Internet, things that the founders couldn’t possibly have contemplated. So, you have to then determine whether the Constitution applies to a case and if so, how? You can’t simply say, “There is no Constitutional right here because it isn’t mentioned in the original text.” You do have to look at the law in view of what is happening today. Having said that, you don’t change or interpret the Constitution to suit your own needs or just on a philosophical whim. The Constitution is a very important document that has only been amended a few times in our history. Judges don’t have the right to amend the document according to their personal likes. But we also need to view it with a mind of what’s going on today.”

One fairly common criticism of the judicial bench lately has been the supposed tendency to “legislate from the courtroom,” also known as “judicial activism.” In this instance, the role of state legislature’s is seen to be undermined by judges who over rule state law and issue legal opinions that invalidate law. Ezra says for the most part, legislation is best left to the legislature. Ezra's Courtroom
“Our founding fathers established that Congress has the right to establish laws under the Constitution and the President has the right to propose them and sign them into law,” said Ezra. “If the laws are too over-reaching, the Courts get involved, and in some cases, laws are struck down. But as a general rule, congress has the right to pass laws on issues not specifically mentioned in the Constitution. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to function as a country.”

In the most simple of terms, a judge is like a baseball umpire or football referee. They are not on either side, but there to insure the game is played fairly and that the contest is conducted under prescribed guidelines. So where does the Judge stand in the whole dynamic judicial process? The ancient philosopher Socrates said of Judges, “Four things belong to a judge: to hear courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly, and to decide impartially.” In theory, the prosecution represents the interests of law enforcement and the public, and the defense represents the constitutional rights of the accused. The judge presides as an unbiased mediator, or as Ezra describes, “An advocate for neither side, but an advocate for the interests of Justice.”

“My job is to be an adjudicator, to make sure there is a level playing field,” said Ezra. “I need to insure both sides have the opportunity to fairly present their case and that the defendant has a presumption of innocence under the Constitution. I also have to insure the government has an ample opportunity to present its case and that the burden of proof lies with the government. If a defendant chooses to represent them self, I have to see that they are afforded a fair opportunity to present their defense. It’s my responsibility that the jury is properly instructed about how to handle a case and that they reach a collective decision that is reflective of an impartial consideration of the facts, without prejudice or bias.”

Ezra’s chief role in the courtroom is to insure the rules are followed and neither side takes unfair advantage of the other. The rules of courtroom litigation dictate what can and cannot be done. As a Federal Judge, Ezra uses three regulatory guidelines-The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, and the Federal Rules of Evidence. His job is to make sure every case he hears follow all of these guidelines.

“It’s a big job,” said Ezra. “You have to keep on your toes when things are moving fast.”

With the factor of impartiality being foremost in the making of a good judge, one has to ask about the “humanity factor.” Judge Ezra grew up in Hawaii, has raised a family here, and been part of the community for the majority of his life. How does someone who has presided over hundreds of cases, many of them featuring the dark, ugly side of humanity, not bring human emotion into the process? The answer is simple; he can’t. Perhaps that’s why not every lawyer is cut out to be a judge. The ability to remove himself emotionally comes fairly easy to Ezra.

“Quite frankly, I’ve never found it difficult to be impartial,” said Ezra. “I approach that area pretty pragmatically. It’s simply not my job to make that determination. Besides, I’m busy enough up there making sure everyone gets a fair trial; I don’t have time to pick and choose sides. I never have done that and I never will.”

The only exceptions are the rare instances when a defendant waives a jury trial and the judge is called upon to be the “Trier of Fact.” In that case the judge also makes the determination of guilt or innocence. Still, Ezra says this is very rare and the determination best comes from a jury of one’s peers.

Ezra exudes a deep sense of duty and professionalism. Yes, he is a man, with emotions and experiences that have helped shape him as a person. But he balances that human aspect with his position, one that he takes quite seriously and seems to rise above everything else. It’s as if Ezra takes on an “alter-ego” once he puts his black robe on. He gives an excellent case in point.

“A lot of people might not know this, but I was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps for seven years,” said Ezra, pointing to a collection of military memorabilia lining a shelf in his Honolulu office.

Ezra says his military service has given him a deep sense of appreciation and respect for the police and the armed forces. But that sense of respect cannot influence his judicial obligations.

“I would be less than honest if I didn’t say I have a great deal of respect for the men and women who go out and enforce the law,” said Ezra. “They perform a very dangerous and important job to protect the community—the Honolulu Police Department as well as State and Federal Agencies. That respect also goes to all the men and women serving in uniform. They serve in “harms way” to protect our freedoms. But that sense of appreciation never extends into the courtroom. As a Judge, I cannot allow my personal admiration for what they do to in any way influence me as far as my Judgeship is concerned. I have ruled for the Federal Government in a number of cases and I have also ruled against that same government in a number of cases, many of them very important. I decide the cases based on the facts of the law, not on any personal prejudice or opinion, that’s the job people expect me to do.”

2006, Hawaii's Most Wanted Magazine