Reagan administration officials said yesterday that Arlington lawyer Claude M. Hilton -- not U.S. Attorney Else L. Munsell of Alexandria -- is the White House's choice for a new federal judgeship in Virginia.
Sen. Paul S. Trible (R-Va.) had recommended Hilton, a former Arlington prosecutor, along with Munsell and another woman for the judgeship. It is one of 95 new federal district judgeships created by Congress in June.
At one time it appeared highly likely that Munsell, 45, the chief federal prosecutor in eastern Virginia, would be nominated to the bench. When she was named by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) to her current job in 1981, he praised her and said he had discussed a judgeship with her but that he believed she needed more legal experience.
That led many women's groups and others to assume that Warner would name her to the next vacant judgeship in the state. But in a surprise move last year Warner, the state's senior Republican, agreed to allow Trible to nominate candidates for the new judgeship, to be located in Alexandria. While Warner has made a pledge to place women and blacks on the federal bench in Virginia, Trible has not made such a statement, his office said yesterday.
That may clear the way for Hilton, 44, who has long been active in the Arlington Republican Party. His name was sent last week to the FBI and the American Bar Association for background checks, a White House official said. Provided they are satisfactory, Hilton's name will be sent to the Senate for confirmation, the official said.
Hilton, who received an interim appointment as commonwealth's attorney of Arlington in 1974, said in an interview yesterday that he was informed "within the last three or four days" that the background checks were being conducted.
"I'm very pleased," said Hilton, who served as a member of the Arlington School Board from 1980 to 1984. "Obviously, I would like to be a judge."
In addition to Munsell and Hilton, Trible sent the name of Christine H. Perdue, 35, a partner with the influential Richmond law firm of Hunton & Williams, to the White House for review.
Munsell, who joined the bar in 1970, was an assistant U.S. attorney in 1974-75 and a federal magistrate in Alexandria from 1979 to 1981. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.