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Bush nominates Fisher to 3rd U.S. circuit court

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

By James O'Toole, Post-Gazette Politics Editor

President Bush yesterday nominated state Attorney General Mike Fisher to fill a vacancy on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Fisher, of Upper St. Clair, a former state representative and senator, was the Republican nominee for governor last year in a losing battle against former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.

Fisher, 58, said he got the official news of the nomination in a call from the White House at about 6 p.m.

"I'm very honored and flattered ," he said.

The White House also announced that Jay C. Waldman, 58, a U.S. District Court judge from Eastern Pennsylvania, was its nominee for a second vacancy on the 3rd Circuit, which handles appeals from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands. Waldman was former Gov. Dick Thornburgh's chief of staff during his two terms in Harrisburg.

Also yesterday, Bush nominated Judge Kim R. Gibson, who sits on Common Pleas Court in Somerset County, to fill a vacancy on the federal bench in the state's Western District.

All three nominees must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

One of the two vacancies on the appeals court bench is due to the death last year of Judge Carol Los Mansmann. Mansmann was Fisher's first boss after law school when he worked in the Allegheny County district attorney's office, headed by the late Robert Duggan.

Another coincidence arising from the nomination is that Fisher will be working alongside the spouse of his former rival. Assuming he is confirmed, one of Fisher's colleagues on the 3rd Circuit will be Judge Marjorie Rendell, wife of the governor.

For Fisher the nomination is a high point in a long legal and political career.

Fisher entered politics in 1974, winning a seat in the state House. In 1980, he defeated a Democratic incumbent to win a seat in the state Senate.

In 1986, Fisher was the GOP's nominee as lieutenant governor on a ticket headed by former Lt. Gov. William Scranton III that met with defeat. In 1994, he ran for governor, but ended in fourth-place in a five-way race won by Tom Ridge, who was elected.

He returned to statewide politics in 1996, winning a narrow victory for attorney general and then getting reelected in a landslide four years later.

If Fisher is confirmed, his current job would fall to Jerry Pappert, now the first deputy attorney general. Pappert would serve as acting attorney general until a new chief prosecutor is nominated by Rendell and confirmed by the state Senate.

The attorney general's post is on the ballot next year. Given the partisan breakdown in the Senate, any nominee to fill the balance of Fisher's term would need the votes of both Republicans and Democrats.

Gibson, a 1970 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a magna cum laude graduate from Dickinson University School of Law, served 30 years in the military.

He was elected to the Somerset County bench in 1997. He is also a member of the committee planning a memorial at the Somerset County site of the Sept. 11, 2001 crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.

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