Four D.C. Superior Court judges, including three who have presided over divisions of the court, have been nominated to be considered in the selection of the new chief judge, the chairman of the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission announced yesterday.
Commission Chairman Wiley A. Branton said the candidates nominated to fill the vacancy created by the death last month of H. Carl Moultrie I are Fred B. Ugast, Gladys Kessler, Ricardo M. Urbina and Paul R. Webber III.
The four judges were nominated by themselves or by District legal organizations. Branton said the seven-member commission could make its choice as early as the end of the month.
Although there was no clear front-runner for the position yesterday, judicial sources said that Ugast, the senior candidate, appears to have a slight edge with the court's other judges -- an important consideration for the commission -- because of his experience as the acting chief judge during many of Moultrie's absences and his reputation as Moultrie's "right-hand man" for the last year and a half.
Ugast, however, does not live in the District, which is a factor that could affect his chances. He has told the commission he would become a resident if selected.
In interviews yesterday, a number of lawyers and judges agreed that none of the candidates was unqualified, but that they would bring different strengths to the job.
Ugast, 62, is a former deputy assistant attorney general with the U.S. Justice Department and has held a number of important court positions since joining the bench in 1973. He currently heads a commission on sentencing guidelines.
As chief judge, some observers believe, he would foster a spirit of cooperation and would provide a "transitional link between the old guard of judges and the newer, younger group."
Kessler, 48, a former public interest lawyer, was active in women's and bar association groups before being appointed to the Superior Court in 1977. She was the founding president of the nationally recognized Women's Legal Defense Fund.
Kessler received high marks for her four-year stewardship of the family division, one of the court's largest and most difficult assignments. She is expected to win support from some of the court's younger judges.
Urbina, 40, has served as the family division's presiding judge for the last year. A black Hispanic who has served on the court since 1981, Urbina is known as an innovator. Said one judge yesterday, "If the court is looking to the future and for someone to bring innovation to the court for the next 20 years, Rick is it."
Webber, 52, has broad experience in private and government law practice and is one of the best-liked judges on the Superior Court. Although he has the least adminstrative experience of the four candidates, some observers speculated yesterday that Webber, a former law partner of commission chairman Branton, will have broad support among minority judges and the black community.