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Feinstein Urges Clinton to Name L.A. County Prosecutor to Bench : Courts: Sources say senator backs Audrey B. Collins, highest-ranking black in D.A.'s office, for U.S. judgeship.


U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has recommended to President Clinton that he appoint Audrey B. Collins, the highest-ranking African-American in the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, to a U.S. District Court judgeship, according to legal and political sources.

Collins, 48, would become the fourth black federal trial judge in Los Angeles if Clinton accepts Feinstein's recommendation, which is considered likely.

The veteran prosecutor has won high praise for her work in the district attorney's office, on Los Angeles County Bar Assn. committees and on the Webster Commission, which investigated the Los Angeles Police Department's performance during last year's riots.

"We are absolutely delighted that Audrey Collins is one of Sen. Feinstein's choices," said Patricia M. Schnegg, president of the Women Lawyers Assn. of Los Angeles, who has known Collins for more than a decade. "She has a wonderful temperament and I think she will bring a lot of balance to the court if she is confirmed."

Schnegg said her group was one of several that approached Collins earlier this year and suggested that she apply for the position, which carries life tenure.

Collins' boss, Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, praised her as "an extremely able prosecutor and administrator," who would be well qualified to serve as a federal judge. "She's very bright and very sensitive."

Under a power-sharing agreement, Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) each get to recommend two candidates to Clinton to fill the four vacancies on the bench in the Central District of California, which is headquartered in Los Angeles and spans seven counties from Riverside to San Luis Obispo.

Earlier this month Boxer announced that she had recommended that Clinton appoint Los Angeles Municipal Judge Richard Paez and veteran Alhambra civil rights lawyer Samuel Paz to district court judgeships. If Clinton heeds Boxer's advice, Paz and Paez would become the first two Mexican-Americans to serve as federal trial judges in Los Angeles.

Collins declined to comment. Kam Kuwata of Feinstein's office would make no official confirmation of her recommendation.

Collins graduated Phi Beta Kappa in political science from Howard University in 1967 and earned a master's degree in government and public administration from American University in Washington in 1969. She worked for several years as a teacher and a student aid official at USC before enrolling at UCLA Law School. Collins graduated with honors in 1977 and worked briefly as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation.

She joined the district attorney's office in 1978 and has worked there since then in a variety of positions. Collins spent six years as a line prosecutor, handling felonies and juvenile and consumer cases. She has been a supervisor for the last nine years, with stints as deputy chief of the Torrance branch office and assistant director of the Bureau of Central Operations.

Last December, Garcetti appointed her as one of three assistant district attorneys. She supervises the office's bureaus of family support, management and budget, crime prevention resources, hiring and employee relations. A West Los Angeles resident, Collins is married and has two children.

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