The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Orange County Superior Court Judge David O. Carter to a federal district judgeship.
The Senate also confirmed U.S. Atty. Nora Manella and San Diego County Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Whelan to federal judgeships.
The three were approved without opposition, along with 14 other judicial nominees from across the country, on the Senate’s last day of work before recessing for the year.
Carter, 54, called his confirmation an honor for Orange County.
“This is not an individual nomination,” he said. “It’s recognition of an outstanding legal community: a great bench, an outstanding bar association and tremendous bipartisan support. I’m very excited.”
He had been eagerly awaiting word of his confirmation, he said. “Now I can quit running for the phone and falling over furniture every time it rings.”
Fellow jurists and Orange County public officials also responded with enthusiasm to the news of Carter’s appointment.
“We’re tickled to death,” said Thomas N. Thrasher, acting presiding judge of the Orange County Superior Court, where Carter has served for 15 years. “It’s a superb selection. He’ll bring credit to the federal bench, and we’re sorry to lose him.”
Deborah Kwast, chief deputy of the Orange County public defender’s office, agreed. “I think he’ll be a very fine judge and a wonderful addition to the federal bench,” she said. “I have a great deal of respect for him; he’s a man of integrity who will do a wonderful job.”
Orange County Supervisor William G. Steiner, who with the rest of the county board had supported Carter’s nomination, said he was pleased with the result. “It’s a great day for Orange County,” he said. “I can’t think of anyone who has a better sense of justice than Dave Carter.”
The new federal judge, who lives in Laguna Beach, has served as the supervising judge of the criminal panel of the Orange County Superior Court for 10 of the past 15 years. Previously, he served as a Municipal Court judge for two years after being a deputy district attorney for nine years. As a prosecutor, he tried more than 25 murder cases.
He is a graduate of UCLA and UCLA Law School, and is a highly decorated military veteran. He was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart while serving as a Marine in Vietnam.
Several other federal nominations died Wednesday, however, including the bid by U.S. District Judge Richard Paez to move up to the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals. Paez’s nomination has been pending for 33 months and was not brought to the Senate floor after Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a staunch conservative, made it clear that he would mount a filibuster against Paez, who in 1994 became the first Mexican American to serve as a federal trial judge in Los Angeles.
Sessions considered Paez an “unacceptable” nominee, his spokesman, John Cox, said. Some conservative legal advocates have complained that as a law teacher, Paez told his students he considered Proposition 209--the state’s anti-affirmative action ballot measure--an “anti-civil rights initiative.”
President Clinton must now decide whether to renominate Paez and other judicial candidates whose nominations expired with the end of the current congressional session. Three other nominees cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee but remained unconfirmed: William J. Hibler and Ronnie L. White, African American judges currently serving on state courts in Illinois and Missouri; and Timothy Dyk, a high-powered Washington, D.C., lawyer.
In all, the Senate approved 65 of Clinton’s judicial nominees this year, resulting in a total of 101 confirmations during the 105th Congress.
That record was praised by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) but criticized by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s ranking Democrat.
Hatch said the 101 confirmations topped the average of the last five Congresses, which was 96, and that the number of vacancies on the federal bench was now down to 50--a 5.9% vacancy rate. Hatch said this was the lowest vacancy rate since the federal judiciary was expanded in 1990. In addition, the veteran senator said the Clinton administration had failed to nominate anyone yet for 29 of the 50 vacant judgeships.
“The accusation that the Republican Senate delays consideration of certain nominees is simply a ploy to divert attention away from the fact that qualified, noncontroversial nominees, which constitutes the overwhelming majority of nominees, were confirmed promptly, usually by unanimous consent.”
But Leahy said the confirmation process had become increasingly protracted. The length of time for a judicial confirmation increased to an average of 212 days in 1997--the first time in history that the average exceeded 200 days--and rose to 230 days this year, Leahy said. The Senate took 41 months to confirm UC Berkeley law professor William Fletcher to the 9th Circuit and two years or more to handle the nominations of four women, he noted.
Leahy also criticized the Republican Congress for “refusing to consider the authorization of the additional judges needed by the federal judiciary to deal with their ever-increasing workload.” Last year, the Judicial Conference of the U.S. asked Congress to authorize an additional 53 federal judgeships.
During Clinton’s presidency, the Senate has confirmed 299 of his judicial nominees. That means there is a possibility that he could overtake Ronald Reagan’s record of 378 confirmations before the end of his tenure.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.), who championed the causes of Manella, Carter and Whelan, predicted that all three would serve the country well in their new jobs.
Manella, 47, an honors graduate of Wellesley College and USC Law School, served as a Municipal Court judge and a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles before she became the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles four years ago. Earlier in her career, she was an assistant U.S. attorney, a civil litigator and served as legal counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee. This year, the National Law Journal named her as one of the 50 most influential women lawyers in the U.S.
During her tenure as U.S. attorney, the office, which has responsibility for prosecuting federal crimes in a region with a population of 16 million, grew considerably. The office developed a special unit on health care fraud and stepped up environmental prosecutions.
Her office also conducted successful prosecutions of former Rep. Walter Tucker (D-Compton) for corruption, former Rep. Jay Kim (R-Diamond Bar) for election finance fraud and former Arizona Gov. J. Fife Symington (R) for bank fraud. Among the office’s other high-profile victories were a conviction of former Los Angeles Kings hockey team owner Bruce McNall and others for bank fraud arising out of a scheme to defraud financial institutions of more than $230 million.
Whelan, 58, has been a state court judge since 1990, after serving as a deputy district attorney in San Diego. During that time, he handled a number of high-profile cases, including the murder trial of Kerry Dalton, the first woman in San Diego to receive the death penalty. He was appointed by California’s Chief Justice Ronald George to serve on a special task force which is attempting to simplify the state’s jury instructions. Whelan is a graduate of the University of San Diego School of Law.