Longtime civil attorney Henry J. Walsh was appointed to the Ventura County Superior Court by Gov. Pete Wilson on Wednesday, filling a vacancy created four months ago by the death of Judge Frederick A. Jones.
Walsh, a 54-year-old Ventura resident and partner in an Oxnard law firm, is expected to be sworn in next month after resolving his current caseload.
Judges and attorneys who have watched Walsh in the courtroom during the past 30 years describe him as a seasoned litigator and mild-mannered attorney whose vast legal background and quick wit will benefit the Superior Court.
"He is an excellent attorney with a tremendous reputation as a civil litigator," said Presiding Judge Charles W. Campbell Jr., who intends to assign Walsh to preside over civil cases.
Judge David W. Long, who works in the court's civil division, said Walsh brings tremendous knowledge of the intricacies of civil work and will be a welcome addition to the bench.
"To have somebody like Harry in that department will be nirvana," Long said. "He is knowledgeable, steady, and he has extraordinary trial experience in big civil cases."
Civil lawyers have lobbied for more civil representation on the Ventura bench, and it appears the governor has been listening. Wilson's last three judicial appointments were given to civil litigators--not career prosecutors.
Defense attorneys share the same concerns about diversity on the bench.
Last week, public defenders began filing affidavits of prejudice against some of the 14 judges who endorsed a chief prosecutor running for a vacant judicial seat in the fall.
While that debate rages, Public Defender Kenneth I. Clayman greeted Walsh's appointment as a step in the right direction.
"Obviously, the fact that the governor is trying to add some diversity to the bench is encouraging," Clayman said. "He's not a prosecutor, which obviously broadens the diversity of the bench."
Walsh's appointment could not have come at a better time.
The Ventura County bench has been down three positions since the death of Jones, the suspension of Judge Robert C. Bradley following a series of alcohol-related arrests, and most recently the retirement of Judge Allan L. Steele.
"Any time you get a new judge it is very exciting," said Campbell, adding that now "we're sort of scurrying to keep up."
George Eskin, a former Ventura County prosecutor and defense attorney, said Walsh's easygoing manner and strong sense of fairness will create a comfortable atmosphere in the courtroom.
"I think he has a wonderful temperament for the bench," Eskin said. "I think people, win or lose, will come out of his courtroom feeling they had a good hearing."
Eskin said Walsh personifies the type of lawyer who used to ascend to the bench decades ago.
"When I first began practicing law, I think that we looked at judgeships, right or wrong, as representing the pinnacle of an outstanding lawyer's career. It was something you earned by demonstrating your skills as an attorney," he said. "Harry Walsh represents that tradition."
Walsh received a bachelor's degree from Stanford University in 1965 and completed his law degree at Loyola Law School in 1970.
He first worked for the law firm of Cosmo, Walsh and Cho from 1971 to 1980, and then for the firm Lawler & Ellis from 1980 to 1985. He has been with the firm Lawler, Bonham and Walsh since 1985.
Walsh could not be reached for comment on his appointment.
Judge Steven Z. Perren, who has known Walsh since the early 1970s, praised Walsh's calm demeanor and thoughtful approach to the legal profession.
"The real important thing is, he has good instincts," Perren said. "He is the kind of person everybody would like to have as a judge."
Times staff writer Hilary E. MacGregor contributed to this story.