Wilken to Step Down as Chief, Hamilton to Succeed Her

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton will take over as chief judge of the Northern District of California early next year, with the announcement that Chief Judge Claudia Wilken is stepping down.

Wilken announced Friday that she will take senior status, allowing her to take a reduced caseload and opening a spot on the court for President Barack Obama to fill.

Hamilton’s assumption of the chief judge role would make her the first African-American woman to hold the position in the Northern District.  Senior Judge Thelton Henderson served as the first African-American chief judge from 1990 to 1997, and retired Judge Marilyn Hall Patel served as the first woman chief judge from 1997 to 2004.

Wilken, 64, only began her tenure as chief judge in 2012, which carries a potential maximum term of seven years.  She spent a decade as a magistrate judge prior to her appointment to a judgeship by President Clinton in 1993.

Selection as chief judge is based on a combination of seniority and age at the time the vacancy is open.

Wilken said in her announcement that she hopes “the process to recommend, nominate and confirm my successor can be done by the end of the year.”

Hamilton, who is also based in the Oakland branch of the district, along with Wilken, will take over next year.

Like Wilken, Hamilton was nominated to the bench by President Clinton and confirmed in 2000.  She also served nine years as a magistrate judge prior to her elevation.

She received a law degree from Santa Clara University School of Law in 1976 and her undergraduate degree from StanfordUniversity.

In the last two weeks the U.S. Senate has confirmed Obama’s appointment of three judges to the Northern District, Vince Chhabria, James Donato and Beth Labson Freeman.


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