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For the past several months, Gov. Edward G. Rendell has had to mull over appointments to three key – and currently vacant – state government posts. The retirements of Sandra Schultz Newman from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and Joseph Del Sole from the Superior Court left openings on those two benches. And the election last fall of now-U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. left his old position, that of state treasurer, up for grabs as well. When Rendell’s picks for those spots were announced yesterday, it was clear the governor had his hometown on his mind as he deliberated over his nominations. Rendell has asked the state Senate to confirm as Newman’s replacement Philadelphia Common Pleas Trial Division Administrative Judge James J. Fitzgerald III. Fitzgerald was a contemporary of Rendell at the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University School of Law and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, and sources say he has long enjoyed close personal ties to the governor. The Republican Fitzgerald – whose position required him to work closely with Newman, who in recent years served as the high court’s influential liaison to the city court system – had been rumored as Newman’s replacement almost immediately after the Republican Montgomery County native announced her decision to enter private practice at Cozen O’Connor. When he was named to his current position in early 2002, Fitzgerald became the first Republican in a generation to lead the Philadelphia Common Pleas trial division. To replace Del Sole, the Superior Court’s president judge emeritus, Rendell has tapped Robert Daniels of Sprague & Sprague in Philadelphia. The veteran personal injury lawyer – who has been head of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association – has been special counsel at Sprague & Sprague since 2005. Before that, he was a name partner at the plaintiffs firm now known as Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky. Daniels is a past chairman of the state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board. For the treasurer’s post, Rendell has nominated Merrill Lynch investment banker Robin Wiessmann, a public finance veteran who hails from Bucks County. Wiessmann is the wife of Kenneth Jarin, a regular contributor to local and national Democratic political candidates and a Philadelphia-based partner at Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll. Rendell’s two judicial nominees both said yesterday that they have promised not to seek election to the seats they will occupy this year. “To sit on the bench of the commonwealth’s highest court is a tremendous honor and responsibility which will allow me to continue to interpret and apply the law while upholding the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Fitzgerald, 67. Daniels, 68, said he knows the governor from the 1970s and 1980s, when both were active in local legal associations. “The governor and I go back a lot of years – we’re old friends,” Daniels said. According to records maintained by the Pennsylvania Department of State, Rendell’s two gubernatorial campaigns have benefited from significant contributions from yesterday’s nominees or their spouses. Since 2000, Fitzgerald’s wife, Carol, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Society, has donated at least $17,000 to Rendell’s two gubernatorial campaigns, according to department records. Over roughly the same time frame, Daniels personally contributed $39,500 to those two campaigns. In 2002, Wiessmann contributed $250 to Rendell’s first gubernatorial campaign. But from 2001 on, Jarin contributed at least $80,000 to Rendell’s two campaigns’ coffers. Many in the legal community had wondered whether Rendell would nominate a replacement for Newman in time for the Supreme Court’s first 2007 oral arguments session in Pittsburgh early next month. But state Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf – chairman of that chamber’s Judiciary Committee, which will oversee the preliminary stages of the judicial nominees’ nomination process – said it’s likely the Senate will not vote on Daniel’s and Fitzgerald’s nominations until later next month. Greenleaf noted that the Senate will, for at least the next couple weeks, be focused on appropriations hearings. He also said judicial nominees have to file disclosure statements with the Senate following their nominations, and then traditionally engage in one-on-one interviews with each senator in anticipation of their confirmation hearings. Greenleaf said he hopes this winter’s confirmation hearings will get underway by mid-March. Gina Passarella contributed to this report.

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