Posted: Dec. 14, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The screening for candidates was more porous than usual for the judicial opening created by the departure of Fred Silverman from the Delaware Superior Court.

Six names are said to have gone to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, from his Judicial Nominating Commission. More typically, three names go.

It can only be assumed it speaks to the quality of the finalists for there to be so many of them.

Three of them have some kind of judicial experience. Three of them are partners with law offices in Wilmington. All of them must be Democrats, which is necessary to preserve the constitutional requirement for political balance in the court system. In alphabetical order:

--Connor Bifferato comes to the list as the managing partner at the Bifferato law firm, but if there is a gene pool for the Superior Court, he has that, too. He is the son of the late Vincent Bifferato Sr., better known as "Judge Biff," who was both loved and respected during his long tenure on the court from 1968 to 2000.

--Carl Danberg is up for what would be his fourth high-level appointment in state government. Now nearly three years into a term as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas, he used to be the corrections commissioner and also spent 13 months beforehand as the attorney general, appointed to serve out the term of Jane Brady when she was made a Superior Court judge.

--Jason Jowers is a partner at Morris James, a public-minded law firm where two of his colleagues are former Superior Court judges, namely, Joe Slights and Charles Toliver IV.

--Abby LeGrow is looking to move up from her current assignment on the Court of Chancery, where she sits as a junior judicial officer called a master. She was also a finalist when the most recent opening for vice chancellor went to Tamika Montgomery-Reeves.

--David White, a partner in the Wilmington office of McCarter & English, knows the Superior Court from the inside as a past commissioner, hearing lesser judicial matters from 2001 to 2008. He also clerked for Sue Robinson, a judge on the federal District Court for Delaware.

--Natalie Wolf is a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, a firm well known for contributing judges from its ranks, including Jan Jurden, the Superior Court's president judge.

The recommendations of the Judicial Nominating Commission are supposed to be confidential, but Delaware is way too small to keep secrets, especially when the interest is as high as it is for judgeships. In keeping with the confidentiality, all of the finalists either did not make themselves available or declined comment.

What is known from Meredith Tweedie, chief counsel to the governor, is a list of names has indeed been presented, although she did not say who was on it, and the nomination for a 12-year term is expected to go to the state Senate in time for a confirmation hearing on Jan. 20.

Whatever Markell decides, it means he will have appointed or reappointed 16 of the 21 Superior Court judges, and he will barely miss making it 17. The term of Bill Witham is up on Jan. 19, 2017, two days after Delaware gets a new governor sworn in.

# # #

A federal judge has put away a rogue insurance executive for 37 years for masterminding a hundred-million-dollar swindle and plotting to assassinate Matt Denn, the Democratic attorney general, and Travis Laster, a vice chancellor on the Court of Chancery.

Jeffrey Brian Cohen, now 40 years old, was sentenced last week by William Quarles Jr., a federal judge in Maryland, in a chilling and bizarre criminal saga.

Cohen, who once made his living as bouncer, ran Indemnity Insurance, a niche company based in Maryland but regulated in Delaware, with a colorful clientele of nightclubs, bars, adult entertainment establishments and concert tours.

After Delaware insurance officials became suspicious that Indemnity was largely a giant scam, law enforcement closed in. A raid looking for evidence of fraud turned up a $25,000 high-tech rifle, bomb-making materials and directions to the homes of Denn and Laster, as well as notes showing Cohen made what he called a "recon" trip to Delaware, according to court records.

Denn used to be the insurance commissioner, although he was gone before Indemnity was investigated. Laster presided over court proceedings brought against the company.

As Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. attorney in Maryland, put it in a press release, "The evidence demonstrated that Jeffrey Cohen was a chronic con artist who was planning to commit murder to prevent his fraud schemes from coming to light."