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SACRAMENTO — Legislative term limits, coupled with a lack of lawyer-lawmakers, make it likely that a not-yet elected freshman legislator will be tapped to lead the Assembly Judiciary Committee when legislators reconvene in December. Two of the talked-about contenders have had significant backing since the primary campaign from the state’s plaintiff lawyers. Noreen Evans is a Santa Rosa city councilwoman and civil litigation associate at Lanahan & Reilley in Santa Rosa. Another person mentioned by lawyers in the capitol is Thomas Umberg, a former assemblyman from Orange County seeking a return to office after unsuccessful runs for attorney general and insurance commissioner. Umberg, a partner in Morrison & Foerster’s Irvine office, is currently serving as a National Guard prosecutor in Guantanamo Bay. The 12-member Assembly Judiciary Committee — charged with what one lobbyist describes as the “bread and butter issues” of civil law and practice — is traditionally headed by an attorney. But half the members are out because of term limits, and that includes four Democratic lawyers, among them current Assembly Judiciary Chairwoman Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, and former chair Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who had assumed leadership of the committee during his second year in office. No Democratic lawyers remain. The Assembly committee and its leadership post will be filled by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nu ñ ez. His spokesman, Nick Velasquez, said no appointments will be announced before the session begins Dec. 4, but acknowledged there will be lots of new faces. “Clearly, these are very capable Assembly members and they will be missed,” he said. Whoever takes the leadership post will work closely with Joe Dunn, the Santa Ana Democrat, plaintiff lawyer and attorney general candidate, when he assumes control of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The whole place has turned around in five years,” said James Sturdevant, president of Consumer Attorneys of California. “You see a lot of lawyers walking out the door right now.” The CAOC has been a big backer of contenders Umberg and Evans. Umberg received more than $150,000 from consumer attorneys in the primary election, while Evans received close to $140,000. Recent contributions to Evans have come from current CAOC President Sturdevant, former CAOC President Bruce Brusavich and incoming CAOC President Sharon Arkin. Plaintiff bar contributors to Umberg include Sturdevant, Santa Monica’s Greene Broillet Panish & Wheeler and San Mateo’s Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy. Before Umberg or Evans can assume the post, they must get elected Nov. 2. But both are considered strong Democratic contenders in heavily Democratic districts. Dave Jones, the Sacramento city councilman likely to succeed Steinberg in the Assembly, is also mentioned by capitol sources as a possible Assembly Judiciary chair. Jones, a former public interest lawyer who served for three years as counsel for Attorney General Janet Reno, received $2,000 from the Consumer Attorneys PAC. Sturdevant said any one of those three legislators could lead the Assembly Judiciary Committee. “All three of them are articulate people and have the experience and background to bring with it,” he said, adding that a new leader is also likely to be dealing with new committee members, since there are only a few Democratic lawyers among the Assembly members returning in December. “They will all be coming in together,” he said. “With seasoned veterans, that could be a problem.” The CAOC spent heavily in a handful of primary races this year to defeat moderate Democrats who had voted against a CAOC-sponsored revision to the state’s unfair competition law. Lingering bitterness would probably lead the CAOC to lobby against the nomination of Assembly members like Joe Canciamilla, D-Pittsburg, one of the moderates who voted against it. Politics aside, there just aren’t a lot of Democratic lawyers left in the Assembly. Some insiders say term limits probably discourage lawyers with thriving practices from taking a career detour. And while a law degree isn’t required to sit on either the Senate or Assembly Judiciary Committees, it’s long been seen as helpful given the array of issues. Lawyer-legislators “understand, I think, more directly, the complex role of the courts,” explained Daniel Pone, senior attorney for the Administrative Office of the Courts’ Governmental Affairs division. “People are watching very closely and are anxious about what this means in terms of how much experience is being lost.”

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