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Southern California financier Gerald Parsky and Cooley Godward partner Joseph Russoniello are emerging as pivotal figures in the selection of the Golden State’s federal judges. Lawyers familiar with the process say that Parsky, President George W. Bush’s California campaign manager, has been given the role of establishing judicial selection committees in each of the four federal court districts in the state. Russoniello, a former U.S. attorney, is expected to serve on the committee in the Northern District. Russoniello said he could not comment. Parsky, a University of California Regent who was at the center of a controversial contract award last year, did not return phone calls for comment. “[Parsky]‘s the key guy,” said one lawyer. Parsky, the chairman and chief executive officer of Los Angeles-based Aurora Capital Group, is expected to appoint Republican members to bipartisan selection committees in a power-sharing agreement with Democrats. An official announcement is expected within days, but Democrats and Republicans may have equal representation on the committees. Details of the selection process have not been ironed out. Although there are no vacancies here, Russoniello could lead the Northern District committee, while Eric George, son of California Chief Justice Ronald George, could play a role on a committee in the vast Central District, which includes Los Angeles. Russoniello was the U.S. Attorney from 1982 to 1990, while George worked as deputy legal affairs secretary under former California Gov. Pete Wilson and later worked for Senate Judiciary chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. George is now an associate at Beverly Hills’ Browne & Woods. The committees will focus on trial judges. Traditionally, the White House has left trial judge selection to state senators and been more likely to select its own appellate judges. On that front, the Los Angeles Times reported last Thursday that the Bush administration is considering nominating Rep. Christopher Cox, R-Newport Beach, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Kuhl’s nomination in particular would be a surprise, considering the jump from superior court judge to federal appellate judge. At 48, Cox is a powerful Republican and veteran of the House of Representatives. He also was a securities lawyer at Latham & Watkins, and helped author the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act. Speculation about the selection process began shortly after Bush was sworn in. The president normally defers to a senator from the home state, provided the senator is a member of the same political party. With two Democrats in the Senate and a Republican in the White House, many expected some sort of compromise agreement, mostly because senators are difficult for a president to ignore. Under Senate tradition, the senators in the affected state must sign off on a judicial nomination before the candidate is voted out of the Judiciary Committee. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein recently sent a letter to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales asserting their role in picking judges, according to a Boxer spokesman. A spokesman for Feinstein, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said no agreement had been finalized with the White House. The sources familiar with the negotiations expect Boxer’s role in selecting judges to be diminished, which her aides disputed. “I don’t know what your sources are, but I can say that it’s not accurate,” said Boxer spokesman David Sandretti. Parsky began his career in the Nixon administration’s Treasury Department under then-Secretary William Simon. In 1977, he went to work at the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher before leaving in the early ’90s to form Aurora Capital Group, an investment bank that made him a multimillionaire. His place in Republican political circles was solidified when he was appointed the fund-raising chairman for the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. Gov. Wilson appointed Parsky to a 12-year term on the University of California Board of Regents the same year. As a Regent, Parsky advocated a management overhaul of the UC system’s $59 billion pension fund. A no-bid contract for $350,000 was given to another Southern California investment bank, Wilshire Associates, to retool the fund’s investments. Like Parsky, Wilshire Associates Inc. is a significant donor to the California Republican Party, including $100,000 during a one-week span just prior to the award of the contract. At the time, Parsky was Bush’s California campaign chairman. As a result of the deal, the treasurer of the fund, which had a 16 percent annual return on investments, was ousted. According to published reports, she was given a severance package worth more than $600,000. Unions within the UC system had urged a review of the deal by the Fair Political Practices Committee, but a representative said last Thursday she did not believe one was underway. Parsky did not return calls for comment, but told the San Francisco Examiner last year he had no knowledge of Wilshire Associates’ political donations. During the last federal election cycle, Parsky donated $237,755 to Republican coffers, according to campaign finance watchdog The Center for Responsive Politics. He was invited to participate in a much-reported meeting of economic leaders convened by Bush in early January. Parsky was also widely reported as a candidate for secretary of the treasury before the post went to Paul O’Neill.

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