Posted: April 25, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Some familiar names have gone to the governor for a Superior Court judgeship, Delaware Grapevine has learned.

All of them have been finalists for one judgeship or another before. In fact, one of them is a judge.

The three names said to be on the list are:

--Richard Forsten, a partner at Saul Ewing in Wilmington, counsel to the state Republican Party, a member of the Appoquinimink school board, and previously on the short list for an opening for vice chancellor on the Court of Chancery.

--Andrea Rocanelli, a judge on the Court of Common Pleas since 2009 and previously the chief disciplinary counsel, policing lawyers' conduct for the Supreme Court, as well as a recent finalist for another Superior Court opening.

--Ferris Wharton, a public defender better known for his earlier prosecutorial work as an assistant U.S. attorney and a deputy attorney general, most notably in the murder case of Tom Capano. Wharton was also a Republican candidate for attorney general in 2010 and a finalist for the same recent Superior Court opening as Rocanelli.

The new judge will replace Jerry Herlihy, who is retiring. Like Herlihy, all of the candidates are Republicans to satisfy the constitutional requirement for political balance in the judiciary.

The names were forwarded to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, by his Judicial Nominating Commission, which is charged with screening applications and recommending a list of finalists. Although the list is confidential, nothing in Delaware seems to stay secret for very long, and these names in particular are so well-known that word spread quickly.

Besides, there were also candidate sightings Thursday in the vicinity of the governor's office in Legislative Hall in Dover, presumably for interviews.

Officially all of the candidates stayed mum about it, as did  Andy Lippstone, the governor's counsel.

This is quite likely not the last chance for the candidates who are not nominated. Charles Toliver, another Republican judge on the Superior Court, is due to retire in the not-too-distant future. It may simply be a matter of crossing their fingers and waiting.

# # #

Bob Gilligan finally got his plate.

The state House of Representatives has a tradition of presenting engraved silver plates at the end of the legislative term to its members who are not running for re-election.

Gilligan, though, was the Democratic speaker, and he kept his retirement a surprise until shortly before he gaveled the session to a close last year to avoid turning himself into a lame duck.

He said he would be back for his plate, and Thursday was the day.

Gilligan got more than his plate. A master legislator and leader who somehow managed to be respected, beloved and feared, Legislative Hall latched onto him all over again and was loath to let him go, as it recognized him for his accomplishments as speaker and for his record-setting 40 years in the legislature from 1972 to 2012.

Even the governor put in an appearance. "Any place he is being honored, I will show up," he said.

The House paid tribute for more than an hour, and the Senate kept Gilligan for almost another half-hour, as he made the rounds with his wife Jeanne.

"I think the title 'Mr. Speaker' is now your name and title forever," said Dan Short, the House's Republican minority leader.

"If you are going to describe an ideal legislator, you just look at Bob Gilligan," said Dave McBride, the Senate's Democratic majority leader.

"You have left, and you're not gone, Bob. You're still here. It's not like a ghost kind of a thing. It's a presence, it's your judgment, it's the way you ran things. You're still here," said Melanie George Smith, a Democratic representative whose father Lonnie George, another Democratic speaker, also served with Gilligan.

To go along with Gilligan's plate, he got a couple of coconut cakes, his favorite. It even came out that Dave Wilson, a Republican representative from Sussex County, managed to get his bills to the floor quickly, even though he was in the minority, because he kept Gilligan supplied with coconut cake.

The legislature also unveiled a plaque for the landing on the grand staircase in the center of Legislative Hall. Other plaques there commemorate the legislators with 20 or 30 years of tenure, but this one reads:





That was Gilligan taking care of Gilligan. He arranged for the plaque before he left -- "I was always told, when you're in, you're in, when you're out, you're out" -- and so he did it while he was still in, just in case nobody would look out for him when he was out.

Unlike the other plaques memorializing longevity, this one has room for only one name, Gilligan writ large. It is OK, though, because Gilligan deserves to be writ large. There has never been another legislator like him.