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Gov. Gray Davis chose an attorney who specializes in complex real estate disputes to fill the vacancy left by veteran Alameda County civil trial Judge Richard Hodge. And further north in Gold Rush country, the governor gave a Placer County Superior Court robe to a career prosecutor. On Thursday, Davis announced that Jo-Lynne Lee, a 52-year-old attorney at Pleasant Hill’s Griffiths, Castle & Schwartzman, was the newest addition to the Alameda County bench. Early in her career, “I left the public sector,” Lee said Thursday. “But I have always been interested in public service.” Long before Lee joined Griffiths, Castle — a firm that specializes in serving as special masters, court-appointed discovery referees and private judges in real estate disputes — she was a prosecutor in the Bronx in New York. From there, she moved on to the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco in 1978. Three years later, Lee jumped to private practice, where she built a career specializing in complex construction defect cases. She worked at several firms, including San Jose’s Robinson & Wood, Oakland’s Kennedy & Wasserman, and its later form, the now-defunct Kennedy, Gong, Mitchell & Combs. She joined Griffiths, Castle in 1998. At Griffiths, Castle, Lee does mediation and arbitration and serves as a court-appointed special master and discovery referee in the East Bay. Lee is a member of the Alameda Point Restoration Advisory Board, a community panel that works with the Navy and federal officials as the parties convert the former military installation. She is a member of the Alameda County and Asian-American bar associations. With the new appointment, Alameda County is left with two vacancies on its 69-member bench, according to Presiding Judge Harry Sheppard. But, he added, the bench had been severely short-handed for months because there are three judges on long-term disability. Sheppard declined to name the judges, citing privacy concerns. Plus, he said, the number of vacancies is constantly shifting. Judge Judith Ford will retire in September, and Judge David Lee will retire in November. It is expected that Commissioner Trina Thompson Stanley, the sole candidate who is actively campaigning for Ford’s post in the November election, will take office in January. Plus, Sheppard said he anticipates that Judge Ken Kawaichi, who is eligible to retire, could do so at any time. If Stanley takes up the gavel next year, there will be three vacancies left, Sheppard said. With various medical leaves, “we are operating with seven less judges than authorized,” Sheppard said. “It’s difficult to cover calendar courts when you are this far down.” The court has shut down trial courts to cover the calendars. In Placer County, Davis handed a gavel to Supervising Deputy District Attorney Eugene Gini Jr., a 45-year-old Roseville resident. Gini oversees the prosecution of misdemeanors, vehicular homicide and DUI cases, and has also supervised the Placer County DA’s Family Protection Unit. In his 16-year prosecutorial career, Gini has worked in the DA’s office in Tulare and El Dorado counties. Both new judges will earn $139,476 annually.

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