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Gov. Gray Davis filled the California courts of appeal to near capacity Tuesday with another round of appointments, furthering speculation that the embattled governor will leave no vacancy unfilled before the Oct. 7 recall vote. In elevating several superior court judges to positions on the Second, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth districts, Davis made little overall impact in the number of vacancies. But he did clear the way for handing out lower court appointments to first-timers who are seeking judgeships. In announcing eight appointments on the same day — nearly two dozen have come down in recent weeks — Davis added fuel to the debate that he is hedging his bets against the upcoming recall, making an effort to stack the courts in case he loses. “It’s a contingency he has to plan for,” said Gerald Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University. But Uelmen, and even some of Davis’ political opponents, do not fault the governor for his efforts. “I hope he keeps them coming,” Uelmen said. “There’s been a long, dry spell and these are overdue.” A spokeswoman for the governor denied Davis was packing the courts. “That’s absolutely untrue,” said Amber Pasricha, adding that the Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission screening process takes time, and that appointments are often made in clusters. “As soon as the candidates go through the entire screening process, our office announces the list of possible candidates,” Pasricha said. All nominations must be confirmed, but it is considered a formality. Included on the Davis list Tuesday was Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Richard McAdams, who was elevated to the Sixth District. The 59-year-old Aptos resident earned his degree from Hastings College of the Law. Merced County Superior Court Judge Betty Dawson was elevated to the Fifth District. The 55-year-old also attended Hastings. In San Diego’s Fourth District, Davis named Justice Judith McConnell as presiding justice. He also appointed Superior Court Judge Joan Irion to the court. Davis first appointed her to the bench in 2000. McConnell, 59, is a graduate of Boalt Hall School of Law, while Irion, 47, earned her law degree at the UC-Davis King Hall School of Law. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judges Madeleine Flier and Laurie Zelon were both elevated to the Second District. Flier, 63, is a member of the Commission on Judicial Performance and graduated from the San Fernando Valley College of the Law. Zelon, 50, was first appointed to the bench by Davis in 2000 and graduated from Harvard Law School. Also appointed Tuesday were defense lawyer George Eskin and Court Commissioner Arthur Garcia, both to the Santa Barbara County Superior Court. Eskin, 65, graduated from UCLA School of Law and has given money to state Democratic candidates. He is married to Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. Garcia, 50, earned his law degree at Loyola Law School. The sole remaining vacancy on the courts of appeal is in Sacramento’s Third District and was created by Judge Consuelo Callahan’s appointment to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Most expect Davis to continue to make appointments before the election. More than 40 vacancies remain. “I think it’s just par for the course that a governor would not want to leave appointments on the table,” Uelmen said. Though Davis made relatively few appointments earlier this year, the pace has picked up recently. However, the trend mirrors a pattern from last year, when Davis made 23 August appointments and 14 in October, according to the governor’s office. The JNE Commission met last week to vet more candidates, but in a quirk of state law Davis may not have to rely on it much longer. Governors do not need to wait for JNE evaluations during the last 90 days of a term, but whether that applies to a governor recalled from office remains to be seen. Justices on the court of appeal earn $159,657. Superior court judges earn $139,476.

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