An attorney pulled from within the ranks of the Office of Corporation Counsel is now the county’s top civil lawyer, following the County Council’s confirmation Wednesday of Molly Stebbins.
Mayor Billy Kenoi praised his choice, noting that Stebbins graduated from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, the same two schools from which he graduated.
“Molly’s a straight shooter,” Kenoi said. “Bottom line is, she’s the best and brightest that we have.”
Stebbins, a deputy corporation counsel since 2007, has been serving as the attorney for the police and fire departments, where she’s proved to be a capable attorney, he said.
Stebbins also received endorsements from the police and fire chiefs, director of the Human Resources Department and the chairman of the Police Commission.
“She’s extremely adept at bringing parties together on issues when they don’t always see eye-to-eye,” said Human Resources Director Sharon Toriano.
Council members quizzed Stebbins about whether she saw herself representing the council or the administration, an issue that frequently arises when the two branches of government are at odds.
“Having the county of Hawaii as our client means representing the entire county — the administration and the council — and always in the furtherance of the public interest,” Stebbins replied.
South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford was the lone no in the 8-1 confirmation vote. Ford, who has in the past hired her own attorneys when she felt corporation counsel wasn’t adequately representing the council, wasn’t satisfied with Stebbins’ responses to questions she had in a private meeting.
“It’s an exciting time,” said Council Chairman J Yoshimoto. “It’s a fresh start.”
Stebbins replaces longtime Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida, who served for 13 years under two mayors. Ashida resigned as corporation counsel on April 30 to take a position as senior counsel for Torkildson Katz Moore Hetherington &Harris.
“You have pretty big shoes to fill,” said Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha.
Kenoi tried to put to rest persistent rumors that he and Ashida had had a falling out.
“He was the longest serving corporation counsel and I was very glad he stayed on,” Kenoi told the council. “(I’m) wishing him the very best in private practice and one day wearing the black robes and serving as a judge.”
Stebbins promoted Deputy Corporation Counsel Laureen Martin to assistant corporation counsel, replacing Katherine Garson, who served as assistant during Ashida’s tenure.
Martin has served as a deputy corporation counsel since 2009, and is currently litigation section supervisor for the office. Martin also worked as Maui County deputy corporation counsel from 2002 to 2009.
Kenoi said Martin will continue as the county’s top litigator, and there are plans to expand the litigation section as well.