SAN FRANCISCO – Gov. Gray Davis (search), after months without filling a single judicial vacancy, began churning out appointments the day the election to recall him was certified, state records show.
Davis has appointed 15 judges since July 23, the day the secretary of state announced the recall question would go to voters. The appointments, along with one other made two days before the special election became official, were the governor's first since April 3.
Davis, a Democrat, named another three judges Tuesday, a prelude to what legal experts speculate is the governor's drive to fill all remaining judicial vacancies before the Oct. 7 recall vote.
There are currently more 48 vacancies on the state's 1,600-member bench, a number that is not unusually high. But Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara University School of Law scholar, said filling judicial vacancies is common among governors ahead of elections, and expects all of California's judgeships to be occupied soon.
"It's a standard practice," Uelmen said. "Every outgoing governor attempts to achieve that, even if this departure is somewhat premature."
Amber Pasricha, a Davis spokeswoman, said the timing of the recent slew of appointments is a coincidence.
"Our judicial appointment office finds the best person for the position," she said. "It's a long process. It has absolutely nothing to do with the recall."
Thomas Hiltachk, the attorney for Rescue California (search), the Republican group spearheading the recall, speculated that Davis is moving quickly to fill the remaining vacancies so a potential Republican successor doesn't get that chance.
"He's certainly hedging his bets," Hiltachk said.
Davis has appointed 300 judges since taking office in January, 1999. By comparison, his predecessor, Republican Gov. Pete Wilson (search), named more than 600 judges during his eight years in office. Wilson's predecessor, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, appointed more than 1,000 judges during two terms.
Trial court judges earn $140,000 annually. Judges appointed this year face election in their respective counties in 2006. Once they are elected, terms last six years.