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Procter Hug Jr., who captained the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals through administrative squalls and financial storms, announced Monday he will step down as the court’s chief judge. Set to take over the wheel is Judge Mary Schroeder, who will become the court’s first woman chief judge. Schroeder, however, has asked Hug to stay on to allow herself to better prepare for the job. The changeover will happen by the new year. Hug said with a new Congress and president in the near future, as well as the beginning of a new judicial year, the timing was right. He had originally planned to resign immediately after the circuit’s annual Judicial Conference, being held this week in Sun Valley, Idaho. He said he will not take senior status, though he is eligible. The announcement came during Hug’s annual state of the circuit address. Although under federal rules Hug must relinquish the chief post on his 70th birthday on March 11, the announcement came as a surprise to many. “You hate to see people that are doing well have to leave,” said Ralph Mecham, director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, on hand for the conference. “He’s not a flamboyant guy. He’s quietly effective,” Mecham said. “Everybody likes him.” Hug used his speech to highlight a list of accomplishments the 9th Circuit achieved not just in his tenure, but in general. He said the court had played a crucial role in “reordering our social system” to insure fairness for all, and added that the court will be at the forefront of the technological revolution. “We’re at the heart of the world’s cyberspace,” Hug said. He also documented efforts to keep the circuit intact under pressure from some members of Congress who think it is both too large and too liberal. “When I became chief judge, I did not expect to spend a lot of my time keeping the court intact,” Hug said. He added that the court appears to be safe from efforts to break it up, at least until the next congressional session. He also pointed out numerous innovations the 9th Circuit has employed, including electronic filings, videoconferencing, the use of death penalty clerks and a mediation program that settles 800 cases a year. The speech afforded Hug a chance to display some of his trademark humor. “We even settled two death penalty cases,” said Hug, pausing before holding up his hand. “Uh, they were not executed.” Hug also praised his successor, a fellow Carter appointee. “I am confident [Schroeder] will be a very effective chief judge,” Hug said. “She’s a quick study and she gets things done.” Hug choked up when thanking his wife, Barbara, and had to wipe a tear from his cheek when the hundreds in attendance gave him a standing ovation. “I believe that we have the best circuit in the country,” he said. Hug was praised by his colleagues on the bench. “He had his priorities in the right order,” said Judge A. Wallace Tashima. “Judge Schroeder will be taking over a court that’s in good shape.”

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