Posted: Oct. 1, 2012
FOR THE COURT
"Judicial RINO," a column about John Henriksen's removal-in-name-only from the Family Court, brought a statement from the Committee on Response to Public Comment of the Delaware State Bar Association. The committee, chaired by Richard D. Kirk, responds to comment about the state judiciary because judges generally are not in a position to answer themselves.
To Delaware Grapevine:
Someone brought to our attention your post of Sept. 25, 2012, regarding Family Court Judge John Henriksen. The post has a misleading slant, and we feel constrained to correct it.
Your post might be summarized this way: Judge Henriksen got a sweetheart deal; he's now being paid not to work; and the Court that gave him the sweetheart deal knew that people would think of it that way. That is just not the case.
For the offense charged and proven, the Court on the Judiciary could have imposed a range of punishment from censure to immediate removal and other forfeitures. If the Court had chosen censure, it would have been well within its discretion. Assuming reappointment and good behavior, Judge Henriksen could have served many more years and earned even more of a pension.
That would have been less of a story for you. In fact, it would not have been a story at all, because it would have been a sanction other than removal, and so all proceedings regarding it would have remained confidential.
Instead, after considering all the factors ("with sensitive regard for the impact on Complainants, Respondent and his family"), the Court imposed a sanction of public removal, tempered somewhat to allow the judge to finish his term so that his pension could vest.
(At the time of the decision, he had served 96 percent of his term, a factor the Court expressly took into consideration. You may contrast that to the removal of Judge Buckson, which you compared without analysis to the removal of Judge Henriksen. Judge Buckson had served his full term, and his pension was fully vested when he was removed.)
The Court's removal of Judge Henriksen was a very serious sanction, more than censure, but less than immediate removal. Since outside observers do not have the benefit of the extensive confidential proceedings that led to this result by nine highly experienced jurists, it is not fair to imply that this sanction was a sweetheart deal.
The Chief Judge of the Family Court reassigned Judge Henriksen to Kent County in October 2011. He has not been hearing cases but has other responsibilities. He is not allowed vacation or sick leave (absent a doctor's statement.) The fact that he is not hearing cases does not mean he is not working.
The Court's use of the per curiam designation does not signify the Court's unwillingness to back what it thought might be an unpopular opinion. Rather than sending a statement that no one on the Court is willing to embrace it, it is a firm statement that all members of the Court embrace it. It is the strong and unanimous opinion of the Court.
Regarding your reference to an alleged prior incident involving Judge Henriksen, we have no way of proving or disproving it since all proceedings before the Court on the Judiciary are confidential unless they result in a removal. If you have a source, that source and you have violated the confidentiality imposed by the Constitution and the Rules of the Court on the Judiciary. Throwing it into the discussion where it cannot be proven or disproven is not responsible journalism.
Richard D. Kirk
Chair, Committee on Response to Public Comment
Delaware State Bar Association