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It’s a foregone conclusion Mary Schroeder will succeed Procter Hug Jr. as chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Many expect it will happen sooner than Hug’s mandated dethronement on March 11, his 70th birthday. But some also expect it will happen next week. Hug is quiet about his intentions, but if done at the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference, the timing would be apt. Not only would it be Hug’s last conference as chief judge, but it would provide Schroeder with a clean slate. Schroeder and Hug are meeting this week in Reno, Nev., to discuss details of the transition. While Schroeder said she doesn’t know exactly when it will happen, she said Hug may make an announcement at the conference. A tribute is also planned for the last day of the conference, and organizers are asking attendees not to leave until it has ended. But they have not revealed whom it is for. Hug declined to comment. Few changes are expected from Schroeder. She and Hug were appointed by President Jimmy Carter, and are regarded as cut from the same ideological cloth. “I think the court is in pretty good shape,” Schroeder said. “Judge Hug has been a very good leader.” Schroeder will be the first woman to serve as the 9th Circuit’s chief judge. She will join Carolyn King, of the 5th Circuit, and Stephanie Seymour, of the 10th Circuit, to form a trio of women leading federal appellate courts. Like Hug, Schroeder frowns upon plans to split the 9th Circuit, which is by far the largest in the nation, stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Arizona desert to the South Pacific. The debate is expected to flare up again after November’s presidential election, regardless of who wins. “I’ve been opposed to it unless someone can come up with a good [administrative] reason,” Schroeder said. “I haven’t seen one yet.” Colleagues praise Schroeder for her administrative skills. “She’s one of the most organized persons I’ve ever known,” said Senior Judge David Thompson. “[Schroeder's] been sort of an heir apparent for a number of years now,” said Senior Judge William Canby Jr.,”and has been involved in almost every important administrative thing that the court does.” Canby has sat in Phoenix with Schroeder for two decades. Some say she will be more outspoken than Hug on certain issues. “She might be a little more activist, administratively — not as a judge,” Judge Stephen Reinhardt said. “I think she’s more likely to be active with rules changes.” Schroeder graduated from University of Chicago Law School in 1965. She later moved to Arizona and clerked for Arizona Supreme Court Justice Jesse Udall. After just four years at the influential Phoenix firm, Lewis and Roca, Schroeder was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the 9th Circuit. Hug assumed the chief judge position in 1996, one week before his 65th birthday. Then-Chief Judge J. Clifford Wallace ended his tenure early so Hug wouldn’t be squeezed out of the position. Federal appellate judges are ineligible to begin serving as chief judge after their 65th birthday. At 70, chief judges are required to relinquish their positions. Just 59, Schroeder will be eligible to serve her entire seven-year term. The Phoenix-based Schroeder recently served as chairwoman of the 9th Circuit’s en banc committee, which coordinated the court’s handling of such hearings, which the court has increased in recent years. Schroeder credits an influx of new judges. She also led a five-member team investigating U.S. District Judge James Ware’s statements that as a youth he witnessed his brother’s racially motivated murder. The statements were untrue, and Ware’s nomination to the 9th Circuit tanked. She is also advising the American Law Institute in its efforts to draft a restatement of agency, which is being written by Duke University’s David F. Kavers Professor of Law, Deborah DeMott. DeMott consults with Schroeder annually about the progress of the work and said Schroeder is, above all, practical. “My impression of her is that she’s very concerned that my work is usable,” DeMott said. One criticism that emerges is of her interpersonal skills, which some within the court say need work. The success of a chief judge sometimes depends on his or her ability to build consensus. Although regarded as a liberal on a court that can often be divided along ideological lines, Hug is universally well liked. Even proponents of splitting the circuit do not begrudge him for his passion in defending the court. It may be Hug’s legacy. “He was there when the real attacks were made on the circuit and he fought them off,” Reinhardt said. If Schroeder serves all seven years, the next judge eligible to assume the chief judgeship would be Alex Kozinski.

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