SACRAMENTO -- With ethics scandals rocking the Capitol, Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday appointed as the new head of California’s ethics watchdog agency a judge who has overseen the discipline of attorneys.

Joann M. “Jodi” Remke, who is presiding judge of the State Bar Court, is Brown’s choice to serve as chairwoman of the state Fair Political Practices Commission.

The appointment fills a void created six months ago when Chairwoman Ann Ravel was appointed to the Federal Election Commission.

"It is about time that Brown appointed the chair; the FPPC has been without a chair for far too long," said Robert Stern, a former general counsel to the agency who co-authored the state Political Reform Act.

Stern and other good-government activists said they knew nothing about Remke, but a former boss said she was a great choice who will be a tough enforcer of campaign finance and ethics laws.

“She is going to bring to the job brains… and she is tougher than nails,” said former state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, who headed the Senate Rules Committee when it appointed Remke for a hearing judge post with the State Bar Court in 2000.

Remke had worked under Burton as a staff attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee. “She brooks no nonsense, even from me,” said Burton, who is chairman of the California Democratic Party.

Remke, 48, is presiding judge of a court that hears charges of misconduct against attorneys and has the power to recommend that the California Supreme Court suspend or disbar attorneys found to have committed acts of professional misconduct or convicted of serious crimes.

The Oakland resident was appointed to the court in 2000 by the state Senate Rules Committee after working as a staff attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"I thank the governor for this opportunity to guide and shape discussion and actions to improve and encourage public trust in the process of government," Remke said in a statement released by the FPPC. " I look forward to serving Californians as we move forward in promoting integrity, transparency and trust.”

The appointment is made at a time when three Democratic state senators are suspended while they fight criminal charges. The FPPC has not been part of those criminal cases, but has stepped up enforcement of administrative cases in the last few years.

The panel is scheduled to meet Thursday to consider levying fines against state Sen. Tom Berryhill (R-Modesto) for allegedly laundering $40,000 in campaign contributions through two county political committees and into the Assembly campaign of his brother, Bill.

The commission made news last year by levying a record $16 million in penalties against some nonprofit groups that provided $11 million in out-of-state anonymous contributions to a California campaign against Gov. Brown’s tax measure.

Remke is a Democrat who is president of the National Council of Lawyer Disciplinary Boards.

She received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Her new position, which is not subject to Senate confirmation, pays $136,144 annually.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com