Governor fills Nevada County judge vacancy
GRASS VALLEY – A man already experienced at issuing judicial opinions in Nevada County has been appointed Superior Court judge, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office announced Wednesday.Family Court Commissioner Sean P. Dowling will replace outgoing Nevada County Superior Court Judge Ersel L. Edwards, who retired in May. Edwards continued to serve temporarily as an assigned judge until he went on vacation at the end of August.Dowling was contacted by Schwarzenegger’s appointments secretary, John Davies, on Tuesday while visiting his son in Newark, N.J. “I’m thrilled to death. I hardly got any sleep last night,” Dowling said Wednesday from his daughter’s home in Austin, Texas, where he was on vacation. Dowling, a 56-year-old Republican who maintains homes in Truckee and Nevada City, could be sworn in Monday when he returns to work. “I’m confident it will be Monday’s first order of business,” Court Executive Officer Sean Metroka said.Dowling has served in the county court system as a commissioner for nearly eight years. He said he would probably finish up his calendar of current cases before taking on his new assignment as a judge.The commissioner system was created by the California Legislature in the 1990s. The commissioners serve as subordinate judicial officials who take some of the workload off judges, Dowling said.After working in private practice for 22 years in family law and general civil litigation, much of that in Nevada County, Dowling was hired in 1997 as a commissioner by the court. Since then, he has traveled a circuit from Nevada City to Downieville to Sierraville and eventually to Truckee as a commissioner shared between Nevada and Sierra counties.During his first year on the job, Dowling donated nearly half his time, as only 60 percent of the full-time salary was funded by the state, he said.In 1998, Nevada County judges hired Dowling full time to work in the family court.”Functionally, I’m doing everything the judges do. I think that’s one reason the judges and others supported my appointment,” Dowling said.Members of the Nevada County Bar Association gave Dowling a “highly qualified” rating in a vote that was tallied earlier this month. Members also voted him as the “best qualified” among the six people who were being considered for the position, Bar Association president Michael Phillips said.”He got the clear majority of the votes,” Phillips said.State law requires Dowling to stand for election to his bench in the primary election of June 2008, Metroka said.Dowling is from the Bay Area. After attending Catholic schools, he graduated from the University of San Francisco with a bachelor’s degree in 1971 and a law degree in 1974.He fondly recalled the focus on rigorous thinking at the Jesuit university. “But that’s dangerous as a judge because your first obligation, after finding out the facts, is to apply the law, not get creative,” Dowling said.But he said he would not find that position constraining. “The process of judging a case is fascinating enough, just to listen to the evidence and create a fair playing field,” he said.Judicial assignments will be decided by the judges themselves in the near future, Metroka said. Dowling said he is likely to continue in the family law area.Dowling will earn $149,160 in the job, according to a press release from Schwarzenegger’s office.Remaining candidates continue to be eligible for the position left by the retirement of Nevada County Judge John Darlington, which is scheduled for Nov. 30. People who have applied for the judgeship include family and criminal defense lawyer Scott Thomsen, real estate lawyer Raymond Shine, Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Kull-Francis and Deputy County Counsel Julie McManus.Bio in brief:Sean P. DowlingAge: 56; born and raised in San Francisco Bay Area.Residence: Truckee and Nevada CityEducation: University of San Francisco, bachelor of science and law degreesLegal experience: Private practice in Nevada County, 1976 to 1997; co-founder, Nevada County Legal Assistance Inc., 1975; appointed court commissioner in Nevada and Sierra counties, 1997; trustee, Nevada County Law Library, 2001.Family: Married with two grown children.Political affiliation: Republican.
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