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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is moving to fill judicial vacancies in the Bay Area, and three people from the Northern District U.S. attorney’s office are among the top applicants. The Judicial Nominees Evaluation Commission has asked members of the Bar for feedback on Assistant U.S. Attorneys Benjamin Burch, Lewis Davis and Thomas “Tippy” Mazzucco, according to sources who have received the JNE forms. The sources requested anonymity because the evaluations are supposed to be confidential. Of the three AUSA candidates, Mazzucco is the most polarizing. Formerly with the San Francisco district attorney’s office, Mazzucco became a federal prosecutor under former U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller III. Schwarzenegger has been very slow in filling judicial vacancies across the state. As of Oct. 1, there were 43 superior court vacancies and three in appellate courts. Since taking office after the 2003 recall election, Schwarzenegger has not named a single new judge. In July, he picked John Davies, who is of counsel in the San Diego office of Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory, to assist him with judicial selection. JNE has floated other names to fill local openings, both in Northern and Southern California, according to sources. The forms go out to judicial nominees’ colleagues, courtroom adversaries and to judges who might know the attorneys’ work. Mazzucco started out in a special assignment working on Housing and Urban Development projects. When Kevin Ryan, who was a San Francisco superior court judge, took over the office, he kept Mazzucco on. The two are close friends. One lawyer who used to work with Mazzucco said some lawyers who work with the prosecutor will give him negative JNE evaluations. “He’s a nice guy but he should not be a judge,” said the lawyer, who requested anonymity. Another lawyer, who also requested anonymity, also did not have a high opinion of Mazzucco’s legal abilities but wasn’t sure if that would come through in the judicial evaluations. “I don’t know how many people will write the truth about him,” the lawyer said. Others had the opposite impression of Mazzucco, who’s been a prosecutor for 15 years. “He’s always been very responsible dealing with social issues,” said Magistrate Judge James Larson, who has overseen Mazzucco’s cases. Larson said Mazzucco is especially good with the issues presented by gun and drug cases, many of which come out of poor, minority neighborhoods. “I found him to be an effective and responsible representative of the government and a good lawyer,” Larson said. Another lawyer who has worked with Mazzucco said the ill will toward him was an unfortunate consequence of his closeness to Ryan, whose term as U.S. attorney has not been without controversy. “Antipathy toward Ryan might have rubbed off on him,” said the lawyer. Mazzucco and Ryan’s relationship is the subject of much gossip in the Northern District. Several people have said Ryan even has Mazzucco drive him around. In a brief telephone interview Friday afternoon, Mazzucco declined to respond to the accusations about his abilities, saying his “record speaks for itself.” “I like Tippy and I think he’ll be an excellent judge,” said the lawyer who discussed his relationship with Ryan. “He has a good sense of the way cases should come out. He really wants to make a difference in the world [but] some of his best qualities have not been used to the best advantage.” Mazzucco is being evaluated for one of two openings on the San Francisco bench.

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