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James Towery

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday added new judges to the courts of Santa Clara and Alameda counties, including a former state bar president, and also appointed one of his top staffers to a San Francisco appeals court in a move that could give California its first openly gay appeals court justice.

The governor named Jim Humes, executive secretary for legal affairs, administration and policy, to the 1st District Court of Appeal. Humes, 53, must be confirmed by a three-member panel that includes Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Justice J. Anthony Kline, but that is usually a formality.

Humes, a former chief deputy attorney general, has been one of Brown's main advisers in selecting judges statewide.

Meanwhile, Brown appointed James Towery, a former state bar president and longtime civil litigator, to a Santa Clara County judgeship and also Helen Elizabeth Williams, a staff attorney with the San Jose-based 6th District Court of Appeal.

Towery, 64, has been a stalwart in the Santa Clara County legal community for decades, spending much of his career with the Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel law firm, as well as his own Morgan and Towery law firm. He led both the state and county bar associations.

More recently, Towery served as chief trial counsel for the State Bar from 2010 to 2011, but was swept out of the position as part of a purge of that office by Joseph Dunn, the bar's executive director.

Towery said Wednesday he expects to join the court by Christmas, after wrapping up loose ends with his most recent law firm, Rossi, Hammerslough, Reischl and Chuck. Towery is part of one of Silicon Valley's power legal couples, married to local prosecutor Karyn Sinunu, who ran unsuccessfully for district attorney six years ago.

"I'm just delighted it happened and ready to go to work," Towery said.

Williams, 52, is a Santa Cruz resident who has worked with the appeals court since 2004. She previously worked for several law firms, including San Jose's Robinson and Wood, which often handles insurance defense and corporate work.

In Alameda County, the governor appointed Berkeley lawyer Stephen Kaus, 64, prosecutor Scott Patton, 51, and Gregory Syren, 53, a public defender, to the local bench. All five Bay Area trial court appointees are Democrats, and will earn $178,789 as judges.

Howard Mintz covers legal affairs. Contact him at 408-286-0236 or follow him at Twitter.com/hmintz