Approval of Jurists Seen as Advancing With Senate Shift

By AMANDA BRONSTAD
Staff Reporter

With Republicans in control of the Senate, the logjam of federal judicial appointments is expected to loosen and could offer relief to an understaffed local bench handling as many as 15,000 cases a year.

Rather than focus on the ideological bent of nominees who might fill at least four vacancies in the Central District of California, there is a bipartisan sense of relief in the legal community for now anyway that help is on the way.

"Nobody disputes the party in power who appoints the judges will appoint the judges that have philosophies consistent with their own," said U.S. District Judge Nora Manella, a Clinton administration appointee. "But the judges here are in such dire straits that we want competent people and we want them four years ago."

Manella, who said she works 65 hours a week even with all 27 permanent judges in place, maintained that the Central District's backlog could take years to disappear. "It's the difference between drowning in 400 feet and 200 feet of water," she said.

The Central District opened the year with 21 of 27 positions filled. The Senate has confirmed the nominations of Percy Anderson, a former L.A. partner at Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, and John Walter, a former L.A. partner at Walter Firestone & Richter.

On Nov. 14, the Senate confirmed the nomination of former Los Angeles Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert Klausner to the Central District.

S. James Otero, assistant supervising judge in L.A. Superior Court, and Cormac Carney of the Orange County Superior Court, had already been nominated by President Bush, and their names will be resubmitted to the new Congress.

Most Democrats are comfortable with the nominations because a bi-partisan committee recommended them to the administration, said Holly Fujie, a partner at Buchalter Nemer Fields & Younger PC, one of three Democrats on the six-person committee.

"Now that the Republicans are in control of Congress, then that doesn't really affect anything at all unless the White House were to pull those nominees, which we don't expect them to do," Fujie said.

Future nominations could be a different story. No one has been selected so far for the last permanent Central District judgeship. In addition, there is a temporary judgeship for a 10-year term also pending. The temporary spot is part of a Justice Department provision that allocates additional judicial positions to the nation's federal courts.

The Central District had requested three additional permanent judgeships to manage its 15,000 cases each year.

Bush also will have to nominate judges to fill any vacancies that might come up in the next two or six years.

"Based on who we know is coming up, there isn't a significant concern about the short term of nominations," said Ray Boucher, vice president of the Consumer Attorneys of California and a partner at Kiesel Boucher & Larson LLP. "But as you get through the attrition of the next two to three years, and assuming this president gets re-elected, over the long haul the country is in for some real problems. There is concern that this administration, with its ideology and its bent, has a purpose to essentially eviscerate the civil justice system."

But even Boucher said the Central District needs judges approved quickly to alleviate its workload.

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