Posted: March 3, 2015
A WAY TO THE BENCH GOES THROUGH LEGISLATIVE HALL
By Celia Cohen
Before Jeff Clark was nominated for a judgeship, he was a legislative branch kind of guy. He came by it naturally.
His father Donald Clark, who is 91, was a Democratic state representative from Kenton for 14 years from 1982 to 1994, and his grandfather and his great-grandfather also were Democratic state representatives in their day.
There was also his great-grandfather's brother, who was not only a member of the state House of Representatives, but also a delegate to the convention that wrote the Delaware Constitution of 1897, the one still in use today.
With that kind of background, Clark naturally made his own way to Legislative Hall in Dover.
He was an attorney in the state Senate for 16 years, until 2012, and if he never went for a seat in the legislature himself, it was not for lack of trying by the Kent County Democrats.
"We tried to recruit Jeff. Every time the seat came up, we wanted him to run," said Abby Betts, a past chair of the Kent County Democratic Party. "You couldn't ask for a better candidate, or a better candidate to be nominated for a judge."
It turned out Clark was also harboring an affinity for the judicial branch.
Clark, a 46-year-old lawyer from Kenton, was nominated last week by Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, for a Superior Court opening due to the elevation of Jan Jurden to president judge.
The state Senate is scheduling confirmation hearings for Wednesday, March 18, during the legislature's first week back from its winter break, for Clark and for C.J. Seitz, who was nominated for the Supreme Court, along with some other judicial appointments, as well.
"Those are both vacancies that need to be filled. I am not anticipating problems with either one of them," said Patti Blevins, the state Senate's Democratic president pro tem.
It should not be overlooked that the judiciary would be Clark's third branch of government. He is a West Point graduate whose tour as an Army officer counts for time in the executive branch.
Still, there is no underestimating how much Clark's familiarity with the legislative branch set him up for what looks like an easy confirmation vote.
If it is, Clark will not exactly be the first judicial nominee whose background as a Legislative Hall lawyer was a stepping stone to the bench. Henry duPont Ridgely, a Supreme Court justice until his recent retirement created the opening for Seitz, used to be a state Senate attorney, and Richard Cooch, a Superior Court judge, once worked as a state House attorney.
"I think it gave Jeff a leg up," said Gary Simpson, the state Senate's Republican minority leader. "He did a good job in the Senate."
The three branches of government may have their separation of powers, but a separation of people? In a little state like Delaware, not so much.