Posted: Feb. 15, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

After 20 years on the bench, Judge Susan Del Pesco is about ready to end a trailblazing public career that made her the first woman on the Superior Court. She told her colleagues last week she intends to retire in May.

Del Pesco's departure will create a Republican opening among the 19 judges on Delaware's largest civil and criminal court in keeping with a requirement in the state constitution for a politically balanced judiciary.

Her replacement must be nominated by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a two-term Democrat who has been notified informally of the upcoming vacancy, and confirmed by the state Senate, where the Democrats are in charge there, too.

"I'm very grateful to have been a judge. It was a good way to spend 20 years," Del Peso said Friday.

The judgeship capped a pioneering path for Del Pesco, one that someday may seem almost quaint in light of this new day in which a woman is a powerful contender for the presidential nomination of a major political party.

Del Pesco was the first woman to become the president of the Delaware State Bar Association in 1987 when she was a partner at the Wilmington firm now known as Prickett Jones & Elliott, and she became the first woman on the Superior Court the next year when she was appointed to it by Gov. Mike Castle, now the Republican congressman.

Del Pesco today is second in seniority on the court to Judge John Babiarz Jr., and there are five women who are Superior Court judges.

"Susan is an individual who combined great expertise in the law with a real feel for the Delaware community, and I think they are excellent combined qualities for a judge," Castle said. "I think she'll be hard to replace."

President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. said the court will honor Del Pesco at a ceremony that is in the planning stages.

"Judge Del Pesco has served with honor and distinction. As the first woman appointed to the court, she has set the example for other women judges and lawyers to follow. She will be missed by her fellow judges, but we wish her well as she moves on," Vaughn said. 

Del Pesco got her start in the law at the state's best-known little firm that no longer exists. More than a quarter-century after its demise, the political and legal legacy of Schnee & Castle lives on.

The partnership was dissolved to avoid possible conflicts after Castle was elected lieutenant governor in 1980 on his way to stardom in Delaware's political firmament. Carl Schnee, a much better lawyer than a politician, had a short stint as the U.S. attorney for Delaware and also ran for attorney general as a Democrat.

Del Pesco was not the firm's only associate. So was Dennis Spivack, a Democrat who has been pouting since an ill-fated candidacy two years ago that Castle is the congressman and he is not.