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Judge Donna Hitchens has been elected new presiding judge of the San Francisco Superior Court. She begins her two-year term on Jan. 2 and succeeds Judge Ronald Quidachay. Hitchens, 54, is currently the assistant PJ and also presiding judge of the Family Law Court, where supporters say she created a model of efficiency by pulling dependency, divorce and juvenile delinquency matters under one umbrella. She said Thursday that as the new PJ one of her biggest challenges will be to look for more efficient ways to operate the court while dealing with budget constraints. “We’re committed to not having to go to layoffs and finding other ways to tighten our belt,” Hitchens said. Although she ran unopposed, the vote was 30-1, Hitchens said, with one unknown judge casting a vote for Judge Richard Kramer. Not all 47 judges cast ballots in the election. There are three vacancies. “I have no idea who voted for me,” said an amused Kramer. “I did not vote for myself, but in light of the results I’m thinking of demanding a recount.” Still to be determined is who will be the new assistant PJ. Judges Robert Dondero and Paul Alvarado said they are candidates for the job, which usually leads to the presiding judge’s chambers in two years. “I think I’ve got a lot of experience in all phases of the municipal bench,” said Dondero, a former federal prosecutor. Dondero said he would run a low-key campaign and rely on his reputation among fellow jurists. “I’ve maintained a low profile,” he said. “I know my colleagues know me and will act accordingly.” Alvarado, a former Alameda County prosecutor, said he would also campaign on his reputation and friendships with his bench colleagues. “I haven’t done any particular campaigning,” Alvarado said. “I talked to judges and told them I would be running.” He said the job requires the assistant PJ “to learn the job of the PJ” and prepare to take over the running of the courts. “I think I have the experience, the temperament and the qualifications to be the assistant presiding judge,” he said. Both Alvarado and Dondero are Republicans.

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