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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday appointed Alameda County Superior Court Judge Henry Needham Jr. to the First District Court of Appeal. Needham, 63, is now set to become the only African-American among 20 First District justices. His departure also leaves a huge vacancy in the Alameda County court, where he served for almost 11 years and, as assistant presiding judge, was likely next in line to become presiding judge in 2008. “He’s one of the architects of our court system,” said Presiding Judge George Hernandez Jr. “To have him go to the Court of Appeal, which is great for him and everyone else, leaves a little bit of a vacuum where he left.” Local judges will meet soon after Christmas to select Needham’s successor as assistant presiding judge and supervising judge at the Hayward Hall of Justice, Hernandez said. Schwarzenegger also announced nine trial court appointments Thursday. Needham’s elevation to the appellate court comes not long after the governor and leaders in the state Legislature butted heads over a perceived lack of diversity among Schwarzenegger’s judicial appointments. Legislators in September approved a bill to create 50 new trial court judgeships � the first expansion of the state judiciary in six years � but at the same time they required Schwarzenegger to disclose diversity statistics for the judicial applicant pool. On Thursday, Kimberlei Evans, president of the Charles Houston Bar Association, which represents African-Americans, applauded Schwarzenegger’s selection for the First District. “It is encouraging, and I hope it encourages our members to apply for judicial appointments as well as apply for open seats,” said Evans, a commercial litigation associate at Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith in San Francisco. Before taking the bench, Needham was a prosecutor, a solo practitioner, and later a partner at Walnut Creek’s Anderson, Galloway & Lucchese, where he specialized in medical malpractice defense. He is a 1979 graduate of the University of San Francisco School of Law. The appointment of Needham, a Republican, requires confirmation by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. The position pays $181,040 a year. “It’s a real opportunity and it’s also a challenge, and I’m looking forward to it,” Needham said. He added that while diversity can benefit courts and businesses alike, “I don’t look at myself as someone going as a representative. I look at myself as someone who’s worked hard and is qualified for the position.” Among the superior court appointees named Thursday, the governor picked Paul Haakenson, a deputy district attorney and a Republican, for the Marin County Superior Court, and Mary Arand, of counsel at San Jose’s McManis, Faulkner & Morgan and a Democrat, for the Santa Clara County Superior Court.

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