Posted: Jan. 27, 2015
THE JUDGES ARE COMING! THE JUDGES ARE COMING!
By Celia Cohen
Jan Jurden did a big favor. She slow-walked her swearing-in as the new president judge of the Superior Court.
The timing meant there would not have to be a special session to vote on whoever is named to take her old seat on the court.
The governor and the state senators have pretty much had it with special sessions.
There have already been two of them in the last four months because of judicial openings arising outside the Delaware General Assembly's regular session, which runs from January through June.
Not only that, it is already going to be another busy year filling judgeships.
Enough was enough.
The situation was so acute that Henry duPont Ridgely even mentioned it in his letter to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, in the notification of his retirement this month from the Supreme Court.
"This timing will not require a special session of the Senate for the confirmation of my successor," Ridgely wrote.
So it was with Jurden. She was confirmed on December 16. A judge has 30 days to take the oath of office, a deadline so ironclad that the state constitution says the term is forfeited beyond then.
The timing is otherwise up to the judge. As other judges have done, Jurden could have rushed upstairs from the Senate chamber to the governor's office in Legislative Hall in Dover and taken her oath of office immediately.
This is never a bad idea. The legislature can take back a roll call, but it cannot take back an oath.
Instead, Jurden waited. In consultation with the governor's office, she delayed the private ceremony that was held to swear her in for a 12-year term until a half-hour after the legislature gaveled in its new two-year session on January 6 at 2 p.m.
In this way, the opening for Jurden's own replacement did not occur until the legislature was back in business. This mattered.
The reason is the state constitution. If the legislature is in, the governor has 60 days to nominate someone as a new judge. If the legislature is out, the governor has 60 days to call a special session to get a new judge.
If Jurden had taken her oath in December, the legislature would have been out, and the 60-day deadline would have fallen during the winter break for budget hearings. It would have meant bringing the Senate back to Legislative Hall for a special session. Yikes.
The governor and the senators have been involved in nothing less than an assembly line of judge-making for more than a year now, ever since Myron Steele stepped down as the chief justice.
In an ensuing burst of retirements, judicial promotions and their derivative vacancies, it has led to a new chief justice and two new justices for the Supreme Court, a new chancellor for the Court of Chancery, and a new president judge for the Superior Court. Nor should anyone forget it took two special sessions to accomplish some of that.
The pace will continue into this year. First up are the current openings left behind by Ridgely on the Supreme Court and Jurden on the Superior Court, vacancies that can be expected to be filled once the legislature returns from its winter break, which runs from the end of this week until mid-March.
There are also a number of judges whose terms are due to expire -- Calvin Scott, a Superior Court judge, in February; Chandlee Johnson Kuhn, the chief judge of the Family Court, in June; Mary Johnston, a Superior Court judge, in September; and Alan Davis, the chief magistrate, and Don Parsons, a vice chancellor, in October.
They will all need to be reappointed or replaced. For Johnston, Davis and Parsons, who are up in the fall, it will have to be done in a special session. Sorry.