Posted: Oct. 25, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Attorney General M. Jane Brady's plan to bolt to the bench from what was expected to be a harrowing re-election campaign is intact so far, even if it did draw something of a passive protest from the governor's Judicial Nominating Commission.

The commission, a nine-member mix of lawyers and non-lawyers appointed to screen judicial applicants, appeared to send a sulky message last week when it forwarded Gov. Ruth Ann Minner a confidential list said to have six candidates, including Brady, to be considered for an opening on the Superior Court.

The commission customarily sends three names in keeping with an executive order issued by Minner, a second-term Democrat, when she took office in 2001. If the governor does not like the choices, she can send the list back for another one.

By sending six names, the commission has raised eyebrows among the bench and the bar.

It is being interpreted to mean that the commission was objecting to including Brady -- either because of questions about her qualifications or because the politics of the judicial selection were more blatant than usual or because of both -- and so it sent the equivalent of two lists because it understood that one without Brady would be returned. The commission is a creature of the governor's, after all.

Minner must decide whom to appoint before Saturday to meet a deadline for notifying the state Senate of her choice 10 days before a special session scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 8, to consider the nomination.

In addition to Brady, a three-term Republican, the names said to be on the list are: John A. Parkins Jr., a partner at Richards Layton & Finger and former chief of the state Justice Department's appeals division; Jan A. van Amerongen Jr., a Wilmington lawyer; Assistant U.S. Attorney Ferris W. Wharton; and James B. Ropp and Paul R. Wallace, both deputies attorney general who are competing with their boss.

All the candidates are Republicans. Although the governor and Senate majority are Democrats, the state constitution requires the courts to be balanced politically, and a Republican is needed to replace Judge Richard S. Gebelein, a Republican who took early retirement to accept an international judgeship in Bosnia.

The judicial selection process is confidential, but the names have been circulating freely among the bench and bar because of the avid interest that always accompanies such appointments.

In addition to the Superior Court nomination, the Senate is expected to consider the reappointments of Alex J. Smalls, the chief judge of the Court of Common Pleas, and Superior Court Judges William C. Carpenter Jr. and Fred S. Silverman, none of which are regarded as controversial, as well as appointments for two newly-created judgeships on the Family Court.

For the two seats on the Family Court, the Judicial Nominating Commission is said to have offered Minner seven candidates, four Democrats and three Republicans, and she is expected to choose one from each party.

The Democrats are: Shaku L. Bhaya, a partner at Doroshow Pasquale Krawitz Siegel & Bhaya; Alan N. Cooper, a partner at Berkowitz Schagrin Cooper & Dryden; Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis; and Mary S. Much, a lawyer with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.

The Republicans are: Family Court Commissioner Joelle P. Hitch; Felice Glennon Kerr, a lawyer with the Bayard Firm; and Janell Schoenbeck Ostroski, a Newark lawyer.

Still, the focus has been almost entirely on the Superior Court vacancy ever since Brady telegraphed in September that she had an interest in it. From that moment on, the political antennae went up, tuning into the frequency for what seemed to be a political deal.

For Brady, it would give her the security of a 12-year term on the bench instead of the volatility of a re-election campaign in 2006, when the Democrats are counting on Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, the senator's son, to be their candidate.

Despite Brady's longevity in office, she was regarded as vulnerable after winning her current four-year term with only 48 percent of the vote in a three-way race, particularly as Delaware trends increasingly Democratic in statewide contests.

For Minner, it would give her the authority to appoint a Democratic attorney general to serve the remainder of Brady's term and strengthen her party's chances in the election next year. It is an open question whether Beau Biden or someone else would get the post.

If Minner does nominate Brady for the bench, there is still the Senate to be heard from. Its 21 independently-elected members -- 13 Democrats and eight Republicans -- would have to confirm the arrangement by a majority vote to put Brady on the court.

It is bad politics to count Senate votes before they are cast. Still, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats appear to mind seeing Brady sidelined, so this too may pass.