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SAN JOSE — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger named Joseph “Rick” Distaso, the lead prosecutor in the Scott Peterson murder trial, to the Stanislaus County Superior Court bench Thursday. Distaso, a Republican, has been a senior deputy district attorney for Stanislaus County since 1996. In November, Peterson was convicted of killing his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. The 38-year-old Modesto resident received his J.D. from Loyola Law School and his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California. Prior to working in the Stanislaus DA’s office, he was a captain in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps for three years. Distaso is a volunteer judge for the Stanislaus County high school moot court competition. He replaces Judge Wray Ladine, who died last year. Also on Thursday, Schwarzenegger appointed a Marin County Superior Court commissioner to the bench. “Obviously, I am very excited about this,” Kelly Simmons said, shortly after learning of the judicial appointment. Simmons, 40, will replace Judge Lynn O’Malley Taylor, who retired last year. “I think she is going to be an excellent judge,” said Marin Presiding Judge Terrence Boren, who supervised Simmons when she was a young prosecutor in the district attorney’s office from 1990 to 2003. “She was a hard-working, smart and articulate attorney,” Boren said. While in the DA’s office, Simmons was assigned to the felony prosecution team and specialized in cases of child abuse, molestation and abduction. As a judge, she will be assigned to the criminal department. “I don’t have an agenda. I just want to be a good, honest, fair judge. I guess that is my agenda,” said Simmons, a San Rafael resident. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. This really is sort of a natural progression.” Simmons, a Republican, received her J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law. She’s a member of the California District Attorneys Association and was an editor of the group’s publication, “Case Digest.” Simmons is an instructor and seminar leader at this year’s Statewide Judicial College, which teaches rookie judges the ins and outs of life on the bench. Simmons said she is not sure when she will assume the bench, adding that she has to talk it over with Boren first. Deputy DA Paul Haakenson was also under consideration for the judicial appointment. In Monterey, Schwarzenegger tapped Larry Hayes for a judgeship. Hayes, a 59-year-old Republican from Carmel Valley, has been an attorney with Fenton & Keller since 1980, specializing in personal injury and business and real estate litigation. He received his J.D. from Santa Clara University School of Law and fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge John Phillips. Finally, the governor also appointed Scott Steffen to the Stanislaus County Superior Court. Steffen, 55, has been assistant general counsel for the Modesto Irrigation District since 1986. He received his J.D. from Cal State-Fresno. A Democrat, Steffen will replace Judge Aldo Girolami, who retired. All four new judges will receive an annual salary of $149,160.

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