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When Gov. Gray Davis was elected four years ago, it had been 16 years since a Democrat had last held the power to appoint California’s judges. And the makeup of the bench reflected that. His two Republican predecessors, who combined made almost 2,000 judicial appointments, leaned heavily toward prosecutors and, naturally, Republicans. With almost four years under his belt as he bids for a second term Tuesday, Davis is far from remaking the bench in his own centrist-Democrat image. But with 245 appointments to date — almost the same number Gov. Pete Wilson had made by the end of his first term — he’s gotten a good start. His record in Santa Clara County, where he’s named a baker’s dozen to the trial bench, typifies his approach to a process that for all governors is influenced by a number of political considerations. For Davis, those seem to include a desire to buff his tough-on-crime credentials, display his commitment to ethnic, gender and sexual-orientation diversity, avoid controversy, and satisfy and reward key political constituencies and campaign supporters. All those factors have gone into the mix in Santa Clara. Four of the 14 appointees there are women, two are Latino, one is black. Davis also appointed the first female Asian-American to the bench; Erica Yew had been a partner at McManis Faulker & Morgan. He also appointed the first openly gay man to the bench; Randolf Rice had been a partner at Skjerven Morrill MacPherson. Statewide, Davis has appointed 83 women, 32 Latinos, 23 African-Americans, 21 Asian-Americans, and five openly gay judges, according to the governor’s office. “In addition to appointing the best and the brightest,” says Burt Pines, the governor’s judicial appointments secretary, “the governor is committed to diversity in his appointments.” Pines says that also means appointing lawyers from all walks of practice, and says he’s heeded the call from within the profession for civil litigation experts. In Santa Clara, four of Davis’ picks came from the district attorney’s office, five came from a civil practice, and two had backgrounds in criminal defense. In two instances, Davis went with tried-and-true Jerry Brown judges: He named Conrad Rushing, a two-decade bench veteran, to the Sixth District Court of Appeal, and gave a trial court slot to Marcel Poch�, who had served a similar stretch at the First District Court of Appeal before retiring. In keeping with Davis’ cautious, centrist approach, though, outspoken liberals and died-in-the-wool criminal defenders aren’t encouraged. “He’s interested in appointing people in the center who do not have an agenda and who are not interested in pushing a cause,” says Pines. Some criminal defenders “are true believers, and we are not interested in appointing true believers to the bench.” One criminal defense attorney who made the cut in Santa Clara was Edward Davila, a member of La Raza Lawyers, a group that has aggressively lobbied the governor for judgeships up and down the state. Another Santa Clara appointee, Brian Walsh, has long been close to Davis, and is credited with raising as much as $200,000 during Davis’ 1998 campaign. Walsh, a labor lawyer who’d been a partner at San Jose’s McTernan, Stender, Walsh, Weingus & Tondreau, acted as master of ceremonies at a September 1998 $150-a-plate event at the San Jose Fairmont Hotel. Also appointed to the bench was Walsh’s former law partner, Patrick Tondreau. Many Santa Clara lawyers say Walsh has long had Davis’ ear on bench appointments, and Pines said he and the governor do seek out Walsh’s opinion on applicants. Walsh did not return calls seeking comment about his connection to the governor. “Brian got the job on the merits,” says Pines, “and he would not have gotten it if he was not high quality.” Pines also said Walsh is one of the few appointees whom Davis knows personally. “I can count on my fingers the number of people the governor knew before he appointed them to the bench. Ninety-five percent are total strangers.” DOES MONEY MATTER? Perhaps influenced by news accounts linking campaign contributions and specific legislative and regulatory positions Davis has taken, some lawyers and judges whisper that this or that appointee has “bought” a bench seat. But campaign finance records don’t provide evidence of any significant direct contributions to Davis by his appointees. To be sure, many have contributed modestly to his campaigns. Some, like Walsh, have even had a hand in organizing fund-raisers, and still others have come from private law firms where many partners are involved in or donate to Democrats. For example, in San Mateo County, Davis appointed Marie Weiner, a partner at Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy. Joseph Cotchett, his firm, his colleagues, and his wife have collectively given Davis $370,000 since 2000, according to campaign finance records. Still, Pines says, “There is absolutely no connection between political contributions and appointments to the bench.” He says he doesn’t ask or check to see if an applicant has given money, and it’s never come up in his discussions with Davis. In fact, he says, “I have discouraged candidates from contributing or fund raising.” Some lawyers who’ve observed the process from the other side of the table acknowledge a perception that campaign contributions can help pave a path to the bench. “Is it something considered? Yeah, it’s a political appointment,” says Christopher Arriola, a Santa Clara prosecutor and the president of La Raza Lawyers, which has successfully lobbied Pines and Davis to appoint more Latinos. “But if you are not qualified, you are not going to get appointed.” La Raza held a fund-raiser in Los Angeles that netted $50,000 for Davis’ war chest, according to Arriola. But he says the donation simply means La Raza is pleased with the governor’s performance and appointments. One lawyer who’d applied for a judgeship said she decided not to pursue it after getting a call suggesting she attend a Davis fund-raiser. “A lot of people have gotten this governor’s attention by writing checks, but can I say it’s judgeships for sale? No,” says a Bay Area judge appointed by Davis, speaking on condition of anonymity. One lawyer who has applied for a judgeship believes talk about the role of money in judicial appointments just reflects heightened awareness about its role in politics generally. “Public scrutiny because of the [John] McCain candidacy and the concern people have had for fund raising on a national level has clearly trickled down,” said San Jose criminal defense attorney Philip Pennypacker. “People are a lot more suspect of motives and the intentions of people that give money, but I think it’s been going on that way for years.” Related chart: A Record To Run On

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