Posted: Jan. 10, 2013; updated: Jan. 11, 2013
NO RUSH TO JUDGESHIPS
By Celia Cohen
A court can do without a rush to judgment, but a little bit more of a rush to judgeships would be welcome by the Delaware Superior Court.
The court, which hears both criminal and civil cases, has been waiting and waiting for a pair of new judgeships. And waiting and waiting. And waiting and waiting.
There were candidates who were already vetted for them, but the nominations were getting slow-walked by Jack Markell, the Democratic governor.
It was starting to look like one of those interminable elections to the baseball Hall of Fame.
The waiting finally came to a close on Friday, when the governor nominated Vivian Rapposelli, his Cabinet secretary for children's services, and Paul Wallace, a deputy attorney general.
The two openings were advertised as far back as August as part of a mammoth package of 11 court officers, up for appointment or reappointment, including eight judges for four different courts and three commissioners who take care of routine matters.
Even with the election intervening, the bulk of them were ready for confirmation by the state Senate during a special session on Dec. 5. In a brisk series of roll calls, the Senate put John Noble back on the Court of Chancery for another term, added Charlie Butler and Eric Davis to the Superior Court and Paula Ryan to the Family Court, and also approved three commissioners.
The momentum kept going with nominations later in December for Chuck Welch to be reappointed to the Court of Common Pleas and for Rob Surles to be appointed there. Both of them were confirmed Wednesday.
Then it was like appointment fatigue has set in.
Just nothing on the two new judgeships, until finally late on Thursday, when Mike Barlow, the governor's chief of staff, allowed that the nominations would be made on Friday.
In addition to the Superior Court appointments, the governor also named Carl Danberg, his corrections commissioner, to a Common Pleas judgeship that opened last month once Davis switched courts.
The Superior Court has longed for a bigger bench for years and years, and it finally had the agreement of the General Assembly and the governor to expand from 19 to 21 judges as of Jan. 1 -- if only it had the judges.
"We're looking forward to having them appointed. We definitely need them. We established the need to the satisfaction of the Joint Finance Committee [the legislature's budget-drafting panel] and the governor during Ruth Ann Minner's term," Jim Vaughn Jr., the Superior Court president judge, said Thursday in a telephone interview.
Because of the constitutional requirement for political balance on the judiciary, the judgeships were split between the parties. Rapposelli is a Democrat, and Wallace is a Republican.
Rapposelli and Wallace were chosen from a field of candidates sent to the governor by the Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens judicial applicants. The commission's recommendations are supposed to be confidential, but they never stay that way.
In addition to Rapposelli, the Democratic candidates were said to be: Ralph "Dirk" Durstein III, a deputy attorney general; Francis "Pete" Jones Jr., a partner at Morris James; Mike McTaggart, a deputy attorney general; and Natalie Wolf, a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor.
In addition to Wallace, the Republican candidates were said to be: Andrea Rocanelli, a Common Pleas judge; Yvonne Saville, a partner at Weiss & Saville; and Ferris Wharton, a public defender who is a former chief deputy attorney general.
The Senate needed the nominations if it is to consider them this month. Otherwise, the legislature is set to break as usual for six weeks of budget hearings, and the confirmations would have had to wait until March at the earliest.
Consequences avoided. Because a judgeship delayed is judging denied.