Thursday, January 23, 2003
Superior Court Judge Thomas Willhite Under Consideration for C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Thomas Willhite Jr. confirmed yesterday his name has been sent to the State Bar Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for possible appointment to this district’s Court of Appeal.
“I’m just honored” to be considered, Willhite, 49, told the MetNews. But he declined to assess his chances or comment on the process.
The process is far enough along that a judicial officer yesterday advised that he had received a questionaire from the commission on Willhite.
Willhite told a reporter in 1991, while serving on the old Los Angeles Municipal Court, that he hoped to sit on the appeals court one day, but considered his chances “slim-to-none.”
The judge is a 1976 graduate of UCLA, where he majored in history, and earned his degree from Loyola Law School in 1979. He practiced law for 10 years, all of it as a state deputy attorney general, and served as death penalty coordinator for the Los Angeles office during the last two years.
A registered Republican, he was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1990 by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, and elevated to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1997.
He did a 10-month stint two years ago as an assigned member of the Court of Appeal’s Div. Five. His best-known opinion during that time may be the one in which he and the panel concluded that Johnnie L. Cochran Jr.’s former lover could, contrary to the trial judge’s conclusion, sue the prominent lawyer for “lifetime” support.
Div. Five’s presiding justice, Paul A. Turner, said “the governor will be well served” if he appoints Willhite. He credited the jurist with helping the court through “a tough time” when Justice Ramona Godoy Perez had to leave the bench due to terminal illness.
Turner said he recommended Willhite for that assignment because he recalled him as an aggressive litigator from the time that Willhite was a relatively junior deputy attorney general and Turner a criminal defense attorney, and because he came heavily recommended by other judges.
“He was looked upon as a first rate intellect in the AG’s office, and did some of our toughest cases [when he was assigned to the Court of Appeal.],” Turner said. “He’s a first-rate guy.”
There are currently two vacancies on the Court of Appeal, one in Div. Seven, where Dennis Perluss was recently elevated to presiding justice, and one in Div. Eight, which has never had its full complement of four justices since being created two years ago.
Other Los Angeles Superior Court judges who have been vetted for appointment to the Court of Appeal since Gray Davis became governor include Madeline Flier, Gregory Alarcon, Richard Rico, Charles Lee, Aurelio Munoz, Laurie Zelon, and Ralph Dau.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company