Susan M. Gill, a mental health litigation expert in the county counsel's office, and Jose R. Benavides, a civil and family law sole practitioner who was raised in Arvin, were appointed to Kern County judgeships by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Gill, 51, said Wednesday she feels "exceptionally honored" to fill the vacancy of retired Judge Arthur E. Wallace, who she said "is one of the most respected and revered jurists in the county."

She said she hopes to "make a positive difference" in the lives of people whose cases are brought before her as she sets out to treat them fairly and with respect.

Benavides, 53, said he is "very excited" about his appointment to replace retired Judge Charles B. Pfister. His first job out of law school was working two years for a federal judge, a job he found to be fascinating, and now his appointment as a judge seems like coming full circle, he said.

Gill had been slated to be sworn in as president of the Kern County Bar Association on Jan. 28, but instead she will be sworn in as a judge on Jan. 29. Attorney H.A. Sala will become president of the bar association, a group Gill has been part of for 26 years.

Benavides estimated it will take about three months to close his practice before he can be sworn in as a judge.

He was born in Reedley, but moved to Arvin a year later. He graduated from Arvin High School in 1975. He then graduated from UCLA in 1979 and earned his law degree from the same university in 1982.

After working for the federal judge, he practiced law at several firms in Los Angeles, Pasadena and Whittier. But in 1993 after the Rodney King riots, he decided he wanted to move his family to Kern County as a better place to live.

He was an associate with the Klein, Wegis firm from 1993 to 1996, and then became a sole practitioner in 1997.

He is president of the board of Community Action Partnership, a social services agency with 800 employees and a $60 million budget; a past president of the Kern Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; a former member of the president's advisory council at Cal State Bakersfield; and has former associations with the Bakersfield Rotary Club and Leadership Bakersfield.

He and his wife, Veronica, are the parents of two children, Ines, 22, who is attending U.C. Davis, and Teresa, 21, a student at Sacramento State University. His wife is a teacher with the Kern County Superintendent of Schools office.

Gill was born in Bakersfield, the daughter of the late Joy and S.B. "Barney" Gill. He was one of Bakersfield's most highly regarded attorneys before his death in 1990, and she worked with him as an associate and partner from 1983 to 1989.

She graduated from East High School in 1976 before attending the University of Southern California, graduating in 1980, and then went on to Loyola Law School, earning her degree in 1983.

She has worked in the county counsel's office since 1989 where in addition to representing the county's mental health system, she also represents aging and adult services and the Department of Human Services.

She's a certified appellate law specialist and once argued a case before the California Supreme Court.

She's a member of the Rotary Club of Bakersfield East. She's married to William M. Malloy, the chief attorney for Child Support Services, and the couple have two children -- Patrick, 21, a senior at UCLA, and Katie, 19, a sophomore at UC Santa Cruz.

Benavides is a Democrat and Gill is a Republican. The job pays nearly $179,000 a year.

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