Posted: Dec. 4, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Independence Day has come and gone. So have Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, and the nomination to elevate U.S. District Judge Kent A. Jordan to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals still languishes.

For that matter, Jordan's wait has outlasted the entire marriage of Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock.

Jordan's appointment is not even controversial. His four-year tenure as a judge has been solid, and he has the backing of Delaware's three-member congressional delegation.

He is a Republican judge, nominated by a Republican president to a Republican Senate to replace Republican Judge Jane R. Roth, who went on senior status with a reduced caseload, but still he sits. It is simply the nature of judicial appointments these days -- a flashpoint between the executive and legislative branches, regardless of political party.

Besides, senators like to take their time on judgeships, particularly for the appellate court. It is their only say before they hand out lifetime appointments to people who not only are going to be around longer than they are but make more money than they do. At $175,000, the circuit court judges are paid $10,000 more a year than the members of Congress.

Jordan apparently has been delayed by an internal Republican squabble having nothing to do with him. There is a possibility he will get a vote this week, but not even U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Delaware Democrat who is a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, knows for sure.

"If he has a chance of going forward, it's this week. We have no way of knowing or predicting or controlling the movement of the judges. We are still very supportive of Kent Jordan," said Margaret Aitken, press secretary for Biden.

If the Senate goes home for the year without a vote, Jordan will have to be reappointed for the new congressional term that begins in January. With the Democrats taking over the majority, the pace of confirmations could be slower yet, although it is not always the Senate's fault. The federal judiciary has 52 vacancies, but the White House has forwarded nominees for only 36 of them.

Jordan is not alone in his limbo. There are people who would like his seat on the four-member district court, where the openings are few and far between. Jordan got there in 2002, preceded by Judge Gregory M. Sleet in 1998, Chief Judge Sue L. Robinson in 1991 and Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr. in 1985.

A number of names are being mentioned, most prominently Superior Court Judge William C. Carpenter Jr., U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly, Frederick L. Cottrell III of Richards Layton & Finger, Richard A. Forsten of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, Timothy J. Houseal of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, and Chief Disciplinary Counsel Andrea L. Rocanelli.

With the Senate going to Democratic control, Ferris Wharton need not apply.

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Richard S. Gebelein's foreign adventure will be coming to a close next month, when he returns to Delaware from an international judgeship in Bosnia.

Gebelein, a former Superior Court judge and Republican attorney general, has been hop-scotching the globe on nation-building assignments since 2004, first on a call-up to Afghanistan as a JAG colonel with the Delaware National Guard and then with a prestigious appointment to an international tribunal in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the former Yugoslavia.

He has not finalized what he will be doing next, but at least he knows when he will be home. In his most recent e-mail to Delaware Grapevine, he explains:

"It looks like I will be finishing my time on the State Court here around the 16th of January, and return home at that time. Our panel has finished a large corruption case that has taken over a year, and we will likely finish up a War Crimes case in December.  

"This has been an extraordinary experience working not only with judges from Bosnia & Herzegovina, but also from most of the countries of the European Union. It has been challenging as well as rewarding, applying both international law and the laws of Bosnia to cases involving War Crimes as well as economic crime and corruption.  

"I have to say that I was somewhat surprised when the CNN commentators kept saying after the verdict in Saddam Hussein's trial that it was the first time someone had been tried for war crimes by a national court in the country where the crimes occurred. In Bosnia, in Serbia and in Croatia over the past several years many such trials have been held by the national courts. In State Court here we have more than 30 such cases pending. Many more have been tried in the District and Cantonal Courts. 

"I will be sad in many ways to leave this court. It has been a unique experiment teaming international judges with national judges to provide a credible center for justice in cases where ethnic, religious and political emotions run high and run deep.

"It has been a real pleasure to serve with the national judges who are every day demonstrating their courage to make this court work, to make this country work. The national judges, unlike the internationals, come from the ethnic groups involved in the war. They may well be subject to derision and even threatening remarks from those of their own ethnicity when they act to do their job fairly. It is inspiring to realize that there so many who put their country ahead of their personal comfort and safety.  

"I will also be glad to be home with my family for Christmas and then to return again in January."