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DONDERO SUCCEEDS HITCHENS AS S.F. PJ San Francisco Superior Court judges elected Robert Dondero presiding judge Tuesday. He will succeed Donna Hitchens on the two-year post Jan. 1. Since Dondero is the current assistant PJ, the move comes as no surprise. His name was the only one on the ballot, and the vote was unanimous. The assistant PJ’s job — the presumed jumping-off point to become chief administrator on the bench — is typically more contested, Hitchens said. The judges will pick Dondero’s successor for that post in September. A former local and federal prosecutor, Dondero was appointed in 1993 by Gov. Pete Wilson, after a year on the municipal court bench. He’s since done stints in criminal, civil and juvenile courtrooms, including about a year as supervisor of the criminal courts. Dondero said he’s not sure if he will supervise the civil courts when he becomes presiding judge, as PJs in San Francisco had done, until recently. Hitchens supervised the civil division and ran its master calendar for more than a year into her tenure as PJ. At the end of March she passed those duties on to Dondero, saying she needed to focus on her increasing administrative load. The presiding judge oversees issues from judicial assignments to court facilities and personnel. Hitchens has also notably had to operate under near-constant budget difficulties during her tenure. Dondero will likely work under similar constraints. “There’s obviously budget problems which the state of California has,” he said. “Since the budget is in the process of evolution, I really can’t know how serious it is.” Hitchens, who, along with other judges, will get her courtroom assignment from Dondero next year, admits to mixed feelings about moving on. “There are parts of it I’ll miss, but I’ve also missed being in a courtroom on a regular basis.” — Pam Smith THIRD CIRCUIT SAYS WORKER MUST ARBITRATE PHILADELPHIA — In a ruling that adds teeth to state arbitration laws, the Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled that a worker who qualifies for an exemption under the Federal Arbitration Act may nonetheless be forced under state law to submit her sexual harassment claim to arbitration. In Palcko v. Airborne Express Inc., a unanimous three-judge panel found that the exemption provisions of the FAA were never intended to have pre-emptive effects on state arbitration laws. The panel said Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas O’Neill Jr. was correct in finding that plaintiff Margaret Palcko was exempt under the FAA as a “transportation worker engaged in interstate commerce.” But O’Neill erred, the court said, when he went on to hold that such an FAA exemption pre-empts enforcement of Palcko’s arbitration agreement with Airborne under Washington state law. “There is no language in the FAA that explicitly pre-empts the enforcement of state arbitration statutes,” U.S. Circuit Judge Dolores Sloviter wrote in an opinion joined by Third Circuit Judges Marjorie Rendell and Ruggero Aldisert. — The Legal Intelligencer

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