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Senate Confirms Paez for Federal Court Judgeship

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TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously confirmed Municipal Judge Richard A. Paez for a federal district court judgeship, meaning that Paez will be the first Mexican American to serve as a federal trial judge here.

Paez, 47, was nominated for the position last year by President Clinton upon the recommendation of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

“I am delighted that the Senate has confirmed this exceptional public servant for a federal district court judge position,” Boxer said. “He possesses tremendous integrity, skill and experience and I am confident that he will serve the people with distinction.”

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Paez, in a brief interview, said he was very honored to have been confirmed. “I intend to be fair and impartial, to work hard and be productive, as I was on the Municipal Court,” he said.

Paez said he expected that “the cases will be more complex, more demanding, and the issues will be more varied.”

After the Senate confirmed him on a voice vote Thursday, President Clinton signed Paez’s formal commission of office and the new federal judge said he expected to be sworn in early next month.

Paez said it has been 17 months since he initially sent papers to Boxer after she announced that she was taking applications for the position in the Central District of California, which covers seven Southern California counties from Riverside to San Luis Obispo. Under a power-sharing compact, Boxer and her colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, agreed that each would get to recommend two judges for the federal court vacancies that existed when they came into office.

More than 75 people applied to Boxer. They were screened by a committee of Southern California lawyers headed by Angela Oh of Los Angeles.

Boxer’s other selection, Alhambra civil rights attorney Samuel Paz, is still awaiting confirmation, as is one of Feinstein’s choices, state Court of Appeal Justice Robert J. Timlin. Feinstein’s other choice, Audrey Collins, who had been a deputy district attorney, was confirmed last month.

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Clinton’s nominees stand in contrast to those appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush. During Clinton’s first year in office, more than half of his nominees for federal judgeships were women or members of racial and ethnic minorities. Reagan and Bush named white men to 82% of the available federal judgeships over their 12 years in office, but only 39% of Clinton’s first 48 nominees were white men. In California, of the four nominated thus far, only Timlin is a white male.

Paez has served as a Los Angeles Municipal Court judge since 1981. He was appointed by Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. and was reelected twice without opposition.

He served as presiding judge of the Municipal Court in 1989 and was chairman of the Los Angeles Municipal Court Judges Assn. in 1990-91.

During the past 12 years, he also filled in as a substitute Superior Court judge and state Court of Appeal justice.

Paez’s appointment was praised by a wide range of lawyers and other judges.

“I still regard him as the best” substitute justice “that ever sat with us,” said California Court of Appeal Justice Earl Johnson. “He was just outstanding in his grasp of the legal issues, his fairness, his writing ability and the depth and creativity of his research.”

“He is a truly outstanding judge,” said Aviva K. Bobb, who has served with Paez on the Municipal Court bench for several years and was just elected to the Superior Court. “Most judges on our court seek his counsel when they have difficult matters before them. He has mentored many new judges.”

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Tomas Olmos, executive director of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, who has known Paez since they were law students at UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall more than 20 years ago, also praised the appointment. He said Paez is ideally suited for the federal judgeship because he is “very bright, compassionate and fair.”

A resident of Los Angeles, Paez was born in Utah and, in keeping with his Mormon faith, attended Brigham Young University. He said he holds liberal political views and is a committed family man, actively involved in raising a 9-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. His wife, Diane Erickson, works for IBM.

Before becoming a judge, was a practicing lawyer doing public interest work. His began as a field attorney for California Rural Legal Assistance in Delano. Paez moved on to the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, where he became director of litigation.

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