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Civil Law Attorney Named to Bench

Times Staff Writer

A longtime civil and family law attorney has been appointed to the Ventura County Superior Court by Gov. Gray Davis.

William Liebmann, a 52-year-old Camarillo resident who has served as mayor, has been a court commissioner for the past two months. He will fill a vacancy left by the retirement last year of Judge Melinda Johnson.

Contacted during a break at the Simi Valley courthouse, Liebmann said he was notified of the appointment late Monday and was still in shock before being sworn in Tuesday afternoon.

“Thrilled. Excited. Overjoyed,” Liebmann said of his reaction to his new job. “It is something I have wanted for quite a long period of time.”

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Liebmann, a Democrat, applied for a judgeship four years ago while working in private practice in Camarillo. His now-defunct firm specialized in family law, general civil litigation, estate planning and probate matters. Earlier in his career, Liebmann also handled personal injury, workers’ compensation and criminal cases.

“Over the years, as I practiced law and got an appreciation for the duties and responsibilities and challenges involved in being a bench officer, I felt it was something that I would enjoy doing and something I could do to provide a service to the community,” Liebmann said.

Ventura County judges recently chose Liebmann to serve as one of four court commissioners, and those contacted Tuesday praised the appointment.

Liebmann is the most recent in a string of Davis appointees with backgrounds rooted in civil rather than criminal law, and the governor’s selection further balances a court long dominated by former prosecutors.

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“Bill Liebmann is a good, solid appointment,” said Judge Henry J. Walsh, also a former civil attorney. “He fills a need we have for somebody who can do family law.”

Presiding Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Clark said that Liebmann “has broad experience in both civil and family law, and we are just delighted that the governor elevated one of our commissioners. It kind of shows that the governor has confidence in our decisions.”

Clark also noted that the appointment brings the county bench to its full staffing level of 28 judges for the first time in years.

Liebmann is expected to serve as a family law judge at the east county courthouse in Simi Valley, where child custody, divorce and other family law matters have steadily increased in recent years, court officials said.

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Attorney Patricia A. Mann, president of the East County Bar Assn., said lawyers urged court administrators last year to place a full-time family law commissioner in the east county to serve litigants who otherwise would have had to drive to the main courthouse in Ventura.

However, both sides must agree to have a dispute resolved by a commissioner. Not all parties are willing to do that, so some family law matters still were being sent to Ventura. Liebmann’s elevation from commissioner to judge is expected to change that.

Robert Guerra, an attorney who assists litigants at family law self-help centers in Simi Valley, Oxnard and Santa Paula, said in the short time Liebmann has served as a commissioner, he has demonstrated the temperament and skills needed to tackle thorny cases.

“He seems to be a very patient and intelligent individual, and I think there is a critical need to have someone of that caliber in family law,” Guerra said.

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After graduating from USC School of Law in 1976, Liebmann worked at two law firms before forming the partnership Liebmann & Dunlevy in 1983. He later opened his own firm. Liebmann also served as a court arbitrator and judge pro tem.

Away from the courthouse, he served as a Camarillo planning commissioner and was elected to the Camarillo City Council in 1996 for a four-year term. Liebmann was selected by his fellow council members to serve as mayor in 2000.

Liebmann has been married to his wife, Cathy, for 22 years and has three adult children and one grandchild. He enjoys camping, fishing and hiking. Liebmann said he is looking forward to the challenges of his new job, for which he will receive a salary of $139,476.

“I think that I will bring a perspective of someone who has been in private practice,” he said. “And the perspective of someone who has worked one on one with people for 26 years, helping them with their problems.”

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