Capitol insider, civil rights lawyer get top jobs with Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom

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SACRAMENTO — California's incoming governor, Gavin Newsom, announced Thursday he has selected a top civil rights expert and a longtime Capitol insider to fill two senior roles in his administration as he prepares to take office next month.

Newsom hired Catherine Lhamon to be his top lawyer and Anthony Williams to be his chief lobbyist.

Lhamon is the chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and was assistant secretary of civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education during President Barack Obama's administration. She also works on civil rights cases at the National Center for Youth Law and previously worked for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

Lhamon gained a national reputation as an education litigator fighting for equity in schools, said Hernan Vera, who was president and CEO of Public Counsel when Lhamon headed the pro bono law firm's impact litigation unit.

"She's a fearless litigator that doesn't mind taking on the biggest institutions to get justice for her clients," Vera said.

Newsom will benefit from her advice on solving intractable problems in ways that can survive a legal challenge, he said.

Williams was a senior adviser for former state Senate leaders John Burton and Darrell Steinberg, both Democrats, and lobbied for the Judicial Counsel of California and the State Bar. He most recently worked for Boeing Co., as a government relations director.

When California was facing a court order to reduce overcrowding in prisons, Williams helped negotiate a plan that didn't just increase prison beds but included "real money" for efforts to fight recidivism and improve mental health and substance abuse treatment.

"The governor elect could not have made a better choice," Steinberg said. "He's a winner."

Newsom takes office Jan. 7. He announced last month that former Hillary Clinton staffer Ann O'Leary would be his chief of staff and former state finance director Ana Matosantos would be his cabinet secretary.

"I pledged that my Administration would reflect not only the best and brightest but the diverse talents of our state and a passion for public service and giving voice to the voiceless - and that's exactly what Catherine and Anthony represent," Newsom said in a statement.

Meanwhile, he also announced Thursday that he will take the oath of office on the Capitol's western steps. The day before, he will host a benefit concert for victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history, which burned 14,000 homes and killed dozens of people in Butte County last month.

Newsom did not name a headliner or any performers for the concert at Golden 1 Center, the two-year-old arena where the Sacramento Kings play home basketball games.

He and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, will also host a children's event at the nearby California State Railroad Museum.

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