Civil attorneys Frederick H. Bysshe and Tari L. Cody were appointed Wednesday to the Ventura County Superior Court by Gov. Gray Davis, filling two seats that have been vacant for more than a year.
The appointments bring two diverse lawyers from the private sector to a court long dominated by former prosecutors.
But they also frustrated some attorneys who hoped the governor would bring greater ethnic diversity to a local bench that critics say should reflect the faces of the people who come before it.
"I think they are both good appointments," said Oxnard attorney Oscar Gonzalez, who knows Bysshe and Cody. "But I do note that we are still lacking with respect to people of color being appointed to the bench."
Bysshe, a 63-year-old Ojai resident, has practiced law for 38 years. He owns a firm in downtown Ventura that handles business, personal injury, criminal defense and family law matters.
He is a former Riverside County prosecutor and a past president of the Ventura County Bar Assn.
"He is a fabulous lawyer," said Superior Court Judge John Smiley, one of Bysshe's former law partners. "I think he is going to demonstrate some wonderful qualities in terms of patience and listening skills . . . and a great empathy for people and their situations."
Bysshe, a Republican, earned an undergraduate degree at the University of Redlands and obtained his law degree at Hastings Law School in San Francisco.
Away from court, he enjoys fly fishing, backpacking and raising llamas with his wife, Judith. He fills the position vacated by Judge Joe Hadden, who retired in June 1999.
"I think it is going to be a privilege and very exciting," Bysshe said Wednesday of his move to the bench. "I've been an advocate for the past 38 years and now have the ability to be in a position where I can make decisions based upon what is truly in the interest of justice and not always looking at one side of the case."
While Bysshe is a familiar face at the Ventura Hall of Justice, Cody, 41, is a relative unknown.
Cody, a Ventura mother of a 3-year-old boy and a former UC Irvine volleyball player, works for Lemieux & O'Neill, a small Westlake Village firm that specializes in municipal law.
She primarily represents public agencies, including cities and water districts around the state. Most of her court appearances are in Los Angeles, Kern and Fresno counties, not Ventura County.
Cody, a Democrat, is a graduate of UC Irvine and earned her law degree from Loyola Law School. She will fill the seat vacated last year by Justice Steven Z. Perren when he was elevated to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.
"I am excited and honored and surprised," Cody said Wednesday. "There were some very good potential [candidates]."
Cody said she has reached a point in her career where she wants to be involved in "resolving disputes as opposed to moving them along." She will become the youngest member of the 27-judge bench as well as one of only five women when sworn in later this month.
"She is the ultimate team player," said Superior Court Judge Glen Reiser, who worked with Cody more than a decade ago at the Oxnard firm of Nordman, Cormany, Hair & Compton.
"She is dedicated, hard-working and extremely competent," Reiser said. "She is just a phenomenal person."
Gonzalez, who served with Cody on the Planned Parenthood Advisory Council of Ventura County, described her as "very bright and capable," and added that he was pleased the governor appointed a woman to the local bench.
"I take her appointment as a very positive note," he said. "I think it reflects some sensitivity to gender issues."
That said, Gonzalez called Davis' appointment of Latino candidates to the bench statewide "dismal." He said the California La Raza Lawyers Assn. plans to protest the lack of minority appointments this weekend in Sacramento.
"We are hugely disappointed with his lack of Latino appointments to the bench," Gonzalez said. "I can only hope that Gov. Davis will be sensitive in the future to the needs for greater ethnicity [on the bench]."
With the new appointments, the county's 27 judicial seats are now held by five women and 22 men. Ethnically, 25 are white, one is Latino and one is African American.
State judicial candidates go through a lengthy screening process.
The governor submits applicants' names to the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for its review and recommendation.
Candidates must complete a questionnaire about their education, experience, honors and names of lawyers and judges who know their work. Subcommittees interview the candidate, and those who know them, and make recommendations.
Ultimately, it is the governor's call. And Davis has been criticized for dragging his feet.
Wednesday's appointments came as a relief to Ventura County judges and court managers, who have been scrambling to keep up with an exploding caseload while waiting for their vacancies to be filled.
Court officials have turned to retired judges for help, but say they need full-time judges to handle the load.