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At San Francisco Superior Court, the competition to become heir apparent to the presiding judge is stiffer this time around. Judges David Ballati, A. James Robertson II and Charlotte Woolard have all thrown their hats into the ring to become assistant presiding judge, said Presiding Judge Donna Hitchens. As far as Hitchens can recall, “This is the first time we’ve had more than two [candidates].” Ballots were expected to go out today to superior court judges, who will have a week to vote. Though it’s not a lock, the assistant PJ traditionally goes on to become the next presiding judge in two years. “I definitely am using this as a stepping- stone,” said Ballati. He began letting colleagues know he was interested in the post earlier this year, and he said he’s spoken with virtually everyone on the bench to solicit their opinions on issues near and dear to them. After roughly a decade as a judge, Robertson says he’d like to do something “concrete” for the court’s administration, but doesn’t come across as a cutthroat campaigner. “The other two people that are running are fine judges,” he said. “It’s great we have this kind of interest. It’s fabulous.” Woolard, who had been in civil courts for about the last seven years and recently transferred to the Hall of Justice, said she’s been considering the position for over a year. In addition to budget and facility concerns, she said courts need to plan for the expected retirement of nearly a dozen senior administrators over the next few years. Before becoming assistant PJ under Hitchens two years ago, Judge Robert Dondero faced competition from Judge Paul Alvarado. In June, the judges elected Dondero — who faced no competition this time — to succeed Hitchens as PJ in January. Like Dondero, this year’s candidates were first appointed by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. Woolard started on the municipal court bench in 1993, Robertson began on the superior court bench in 1994, and Ballati took a muni court seat in 1995.

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