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Lawyer, Judge Nominated for Federal Bench


High-flying San Francisco attorney Charles Breyer, a savvy trial lawyer and advocate of juvenile justice reform whose brother is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, has been recommended for the federal bench.

Breyer's 30-year legal career has spanned criminal and civil courts. He prosecuted a Watergate-related trial, and more recently defended a tobacco company. His client list sparkles with celebrity names--but he also has worked to develop programs for low-income youths.

And he has connections in Washington: his brother, Stephen G. Breyer, is a Supreme Court justice and former counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which must approve the nomination.

Calling Breyer "an outstanding man, a proven leader and a person of high integrity," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) this week urged President Clinton to nominate him to the U.S. District Court for Northern California.

Feinstein also pushed for a promotion to the federal bench for Superior Court Judge Carlos R. Moreno, a Los Angeles native who follows legal journals with such zeal that his friends call him a bookworm. Noting that Moreno started his career in the Los Angeles city attorney's office, Feinstein called him "one of those amazing local success stories."

Despite those glowing recommendations, Moreno and Breyer face a confirmation process that has become increasingly contentious--and slow.

The Senate has deferred votes on dozens of Clinton's judicial nominees over the last few years. As a result, 12% of district and appellate court seats remain vacant. The confirmation of Margaret Morrow, a respected Los Angeles attorney nominated to federal district court, has been delayed for 15 months--and counting.

Still, analysts said Breyer and Moreno should maneuver through the confirmation process more quickly than most.

Although Breyer's law firm has ties to the Democratic Party, politicians from both sides of the aisle know him through his brother, who easily won confirmation to the Supreme Court seat.

Moreno is also a Democrat, but owes his career to two Republicans. He was appointed to the Municipal Court in 1986 by Gov. George Deukmejian and was elevated to the Superior Court in 1993 by Gov. Pete Wilson.

In addition, both men have impeccable academic pedigrees. Breyer, 55, graduated from Harvard University and earned his law degree at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall. Moreno, 48, got his bachelor's degree from Yale University and his law degree from Stanford University.

Both are considered somewhat moderate. Breyer has derided "mushy liberal" intervention programs, which he calls "hug-a-thug." And Moreno was endorsed for the federal post by the California Narcotics Officers Assn.

Because of the confirmation process ahead, Breyer declined to discuss the prospect of following in the path of his older brother, who served as a federal judge before ascending to the Supreme Court two years ago. His only comment: "I am certainly pleased that the senator recommended me."

Moreno, who is now handling mainly criminal cases, said he looks forward to learning federal procedures and diving into the complex civil litigation that often lands in U.S. District Court. "I'm very pleased and honored to even be considered for such an important post," he said.

If confirmed, Moreno would work in Los Angeles and Breyer in San Francisco.

A dapper dresser who favors bow ties, Breyer has for the last year led an effort to reform San Francisco's juvenile justice system. He has been seeking funding for a boarding school academy for troubled girls. And he has worked to develop after-school programs to keep youngster occupied.

"He's an excellent leader," said Anna Shimko, vice president of the Juvenile Probation Commission that Breyer heads.

Breyer--who calls his brother the true intellectual in the family--also serves on the board of directors of the San Francisco Conservation Corps, an organization dedicated to helping at-risk youths and school dropouts.

"Too many judges have trouble relating to people who are not like the guys they meet in their country club. That is not going to be Chuck's problem," said state Court of Appeal Justice J. Anthony Kline, a friend of Breyer for 25 years. "Here you have a guy with a Harvard degree and an elegant practice who is involved in a real way in the nuts and bolts of issues affecting primarily low-income people of color."

Moreno, too, is proud of his ties to the community.

Chatting with his friend and fellow Superior Court Judge Morris Jones, Moreno used to walk to the window and point out the landmarks of his past: the public high school he attended, the neighborhood where he grew up. "To him," Jones said, "this is home."

Times legal affairs writer Henry Weinstein contributed to this story.

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