Posted: May 12, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

With an opening for a chief magistrate, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner saw another opportunity for a down-home judicial appointment, and she took it.

Minner decided Thursday to nominate Alan G. Davis, a Sussex County lawyer who also works as an attorney in the state House of Representatives, to run the state's system of Justice of the Peace Courts, also called magistrate courts.

Minner did not look far from home for her selection. Davis is not only a fellow downstate Democrat but the great nephew of Edward R. "Ned" Davis, a Dover lobbyist who is one of the governor's closest advisers.

Alan Davis must be confirmed by the state Senate before he can assume the administrative responsibility for the magistrate courts, where 60 citizen-judges handle minor criminal and civil matters, including landlord-tenant cases. He would serve a four-year term with a current annual salary of $117,000.

With the legislature scheduled to begin a two-week break at the close of business today, Davis' confirmation hearing probably will be held on Wednesday, June 1, according to Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., a Bridgeville Democrat who chairs the Executive Committee in charge of nominations.

Adams did not anticipate any problems with Davis' confirmation. "He's worked with the House members, and I've heard nothing but good things," Adams said.

Davis, 33, of Milton, would replace Patricia W. Griffin, also a Sussex County Democrat, who was tapped by Chief Justice Myron T. Steele to become the state court administrator in February.

"I wasn't happy to see her go, but I was happy to be offered an opportunity to work in a court I love," Davis said.

Davis has a long familiarity with the court, and not just because he has practiced there. His father Edward G. Davis has been a magistrate for 30 years. One of Alan Davis' strongest childhood memories is sitting on the lap of a court clerk and typing when he was about four.

If confirmed, Davis would become his father's boss. He said he spoke about that possibility with both the Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommended him as one of four candidates for the appointment, and the governor. He said he would put a procedure in place for the deputy chief magistrates to handle his father's scheduling and anything else that would arise.

Family ties have never been an automatic disqualification for the Delaware judiciary. The state court system currently works around the wife-and-husband judgeships of Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger and Superior Court Judge Fred S. Silverman. The federal government simultaneously sustained the wife-and-husband offices of Circuit Judge Jane R. Roth and the late U.S. Sen. William V. Roth Jr.

Davis' appointment extends Minner's efforts to put a downstate stamp on the judiciary. She put fellow Kent County Democrats in charge of the Supreme Court and the Superior Court and also gave Kent County two seats on the five-member Supreme Court. Minner comes from the Kent County side of Milford, which straddles the Kent and Sussex line.

Davis, a graduate of Laurel High School, the University of Virginia and Widener University law school, practices in the Georgetown firm of Henry Clay Davis III, his uncle.

Alan Davis became a lawyer only five years ago with a rare February admission to the bar in 2000. New lawyers typically are admitted in a group ceremony in December, but Davis missed his. He was away, already participating in a favorite tradition of the Delaware bench and bar.

"I was duck hunting in Louisiana," Davis said.

The downside was to put off practicing law for a couple of months, but the upside was a private admission ceremony in which Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland swore him in. Holland, naturally, is from Sussex County, too.