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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will get a chance to fill a slot on the judiciary a little sooner than most people expected. Third District Court of Appeal Justice Daniel Kolkey announced Monday he was leaving the court to become a partner at the San Francisco office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. He was a partner at the firm’s Los Angeles office before becoming Gov. Pete Wilson’s legal affairs secretary in 1995. “It was simply time for me to make a change,” said Kolkey, 51, who served on the court nearly five years. Though several sources said they knew of no other high-profile retirements in the offing, Kolkey’s departure on the first day of Schwarzenegger’s term raises the question of whether other GOP appointees may be aching to retire now that a Republican occupies the governor’s office. Kolkey, according to a source close to the Third District, had planned to leave the bench by Nov. 1 but decided to stay on for a few weeks to give Schwarzenegger the chance to pick his replacement. Kolkey denied there was any political calculation in his decision. However, he acknowledged Schwarzenegger was likely to replace him with someone close to his political stripe. “Let me put it this way, I was confident that the new governor would select someone who shared my political philosophy,” Kolkey said. Steven Merksamer, a partner in the Sacramento office of Nielsen, Merksamer, Parrinello, Mueller & Naylor, said it’s normal for judges to think about the political ramifications of the timing of their retirements. “It’s common � and there’s nothing inappropriate about it,” said Merksamer, a Republican who served as Gov. George Deukmejian’s chief of staff. Though Democratic Gov. Gray Davis nearly filled all judicial vacancies on the state courts, Schwarzenegger inherits a bench where roughly three-quarters of the judges are Republican appointees. The Supreme Court, too, tilts to the GOP, with six of seven justices picked by Deukmejian or Wilson. Schwarzenegger will get an immediate pick for the high court if Janice Rogers Brown is able to overcome a Democratic filibuster in her bid for the D.C. Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. And the new governor will likely have ample opportunity to make a significant number of picks for the lower courts — particularly as many Deukmejian appointees reach 20 years on the bench. Twenty years is the typical tenure judges must serve to accrue their full retirement benefits. Kolkey’s slot on the Third District is considered prime judicial real estate by state officials because the court handles so many cases involving state government. Republicans were likely to cheer keeping a slot on the politically sensitive bench from a Davis appointee. Though he’ll miss some retirement benefits, Kolkey will likely get a nice boost in pay at Gibson, Dunn. Partners there earned an average of $1.185 million in 2002, according to The Recorder affiliate The American Lawyer’s rankings of the nation’s highest-grossing firms. By contrast, an associate justice earns about $160,000 per year. Third District Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland said he would miss Kolkey, whom he called “enthusiastic” and “meticulous.” Besides being good on the bench, Scotland said Kolkey also has a good, dry sense of humor and a great singing voice, as Scotland found out when Kolkey performed in skits at the district’s annual holiday parties. Topping the list of possible replacements in the district is Sacramento Superior Court Judge Maryanne Gilliard, according to Sacramento insiders. “I would give that some serious consideration,” Gilliard said Tuesday. Gilliard held a variety of government jobs before becoming a judge, including serving as Wilson’s deputy cabinet secretary. Her husband, Dave Gilliard, ran the main committee that promoted the recall of Davis. Nothing can happen, though, until Schwarzenegger names his judicial appointments secretary. Although a spokesman said the new governor would pick someone before the inauguration, Schwarzenegger still hasn’t done so. A Schwarzenegger spokeswoman said Tuesday she didn’t know when the new governor would name a judicial secretary.

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