Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Page 1


JNE Commission to Review Nine Judges as Possible C.A. Justices




The names of nine Los Angeles Superior Court judges, including one who was considered for elevation under former Gov. Gray Davis, have been sent to the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation as possible appointees to this district’s Court of Appeal.

The nominations of three potential justices last week left the governor with no vacancies to fill at the present time. But there will be at least one new opening in the coming months, as Justice Michael Nott is retiring from Div. Two April 1.

Judges Ronald Coen, Frank Jackson, Aurelio Munoz, and Carl West confirmed Friday that they are among those whose names have been sent to the JNE commission. The MetNews has learned through sources that Judges Owen Lee Kwong, Fumiko Wasserman, William Highberger, Chris R. Conway, and Peter Lichtman are the others.

Kwong and Lichtman declined comment Friday. Wasserman, Conway, and Highberger could not be reached.

‘Logical Step’

Coen, 56, said he had applied to the governor a year ago, calling it “the next logical step” after 20 years on the bench, including 18 death penalty trials. The 56-year-old jurist was a deputy district attorney from 1973 to 1985 and was head deputy in the Organized Crime Division when then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed him to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1985.

He was elevated to the Superior Court by Deukmejian in 1987 and currently hears criminal cases in San Fernando.

Jackson, 56, said it was “an honor just to be considered” by the governor for the Court of Appeal. He has sat twice as a justice pro tem and “thoroughly enjoyed it,” he said, because each case is “a new adventure, a new experience.”

Jackson was a family law specialist and partner in a Lancaster firm where he had worked for over 16 years when Deukmejian tapped him for the Antelope Municipal Court in 1990. He was elevated to the Superior Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson in 1993.

Munoz, whose name was sent to JNE by Davis in 2002, was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by then-Gov. Jerry Brown in 1979 and elevated to the Superior Court the following year.

The 66-year-old jurist, who now hears civil cases downtown, was a deputy state public defender when he was appointed to the bench. He has also served as a Court of Appeal staff attorney, legislative committee counsel, deputy public defender in Fresno County, and a Ford Foundation fellow representing indigent defendants in Philadelphia.

He has served as a Court of Appeal justice pro tem.

West, 54, was a 1994 appointee of Wilson to the Los Angeles Municipal Court, and was elevated by Wilson two years later. His practicing career was in civil litigation, with an emphasis on real property and commercial law, in Los Angeles and later Pasadena.

Kwong was a deputy state attorney general for 15 years, and was a supervisor in the Antitrust Section when Deukmejian appointed him to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1989. He was named to the Superior Court by Wilson four years later.

Kwong is also a practicing pharmacist, a profession in which he worked during law school and after being admitted to the State Bar. He continues to work occasionally at Kaiser Permanente’s Sunset facility.

Wasserman, 57, is a member of the Superior Court Appellate Division. She worked briefly as a Los Angeles deputy city attorney and as an associate at a large Los Angeles firm before her appointment as an assistant U.S. attorney, a post she held for four years before becoming a judge.

Deukmejian named her to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1986, the South Bay Municipal Court in 1987, and the Superior Court in 1989.

Employment Lawyer

Highberger, 54, was named to the Superior Court by Wilson in 1998 after 22 years of practice with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, largely in employment law. He is married to Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl, who recently ended her bid for appointment to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rather than face the possibility of another filibuster by Democrats who blocked her nomination previously.

Conway, 63, was appointed to the Long Beach Municipal Court in 1986 by Deukmejian, who elevated him to the Superior Court the following year. Before that he practiced in Long Beach for 19 years, largely in probate, tax, real estate and business law.

Lichtman, 53, was appointed to the Los Angeles Municipal Court by Wilson in 1994. Wilson elevated him to the Superior Court in 1997.

He is currently assigned to complex civil litigation at the Central Civil West courthouse, where he was formerly supervising judge. He ran unsuccessfully for assistant supervising judge of the court last year, and was under consideration by President Bush for a federal district judgeship.


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