Posted: May 1, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A new president does not just sweep in a new Cabinet. To the victor also go new judgeships and federal prosecutors.

Delaware needs one of each. The reason is Colm Connolly.

Connolly, best known as the white-knight prosecutor who put away Tom Capano for murder, was the U.S. attorney here during the Bush administration. When a federal judgeship opened up in late 2006, he applied for it.

The Republican White House dilly-dallied on his appointment, and the Democratic Senate shilly-shallied on considering it. Presidential nominations have all the staying power of Cinderella before midnight, and Connolly was left with pumpkins and mice when Barack Obama flipped the presidency from Republican to Democrat.

Connolly got out while the going was good and decamped for a law firm in Philadelphia.

The upshot was the federal District Court in Wilmington has been short one of its four judges since Kent Jordan moved up to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the government lawyers here have been working under an acting U.S. attorney since Connolly departed.

It is up to the Obama administration to fill both spots, but the effort is only beginning now. War, recession and pestilence can have that kind of effect.

Presidents do not select judges and U.S. attorneys alone. They ask for recommendations from the senior senator of their own party.

Because each state has two senators and both of the senators from Delaware are Democrats, it ought to be Tom Carper. He has been in the Senate for eight years, while Ted Kaufman has been there for three months.

Carper may not be the senior senator, however. He may be the sandwich senator.

A certain vice president who used to be the senior senator has given every indication he is no more likely to go away than the Star Spangled Banner did at dawn's early light.

Joe Biden represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years, and old habits die hard, particularly for someone who chaired the Judiciary Committee and had a lot to say about the federal judicial system here.

Carper did play a part in who made the first cut. He submitted his recommendations this week in accordance with instructions from White House Counsel Greg Craig to abide by the "Rule of Three" -- provide three candidates without ranking them.

"He said, you pick the three you think are best suited, and give the president some discretion," Carper said.

The selection is confidential, but this is Delaware. Nothing stays secret for long.

The candidates for the judgeship are said to be: Andre Bouchard, the managing partner at Bouchard Margules & Friedlander in Wilmington; Mary Graham, a partner at Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell in Wilmington; and U.S. Magistrate Judge Leonard Stark.

What really is attracting attention, however, is the choice for U.S. attorney. The two leading candidates are said to be Charlie Oberly and Kathy Jennings. They have been colleagues forever, moving from their days together when Oberly was the attorney general and Jennings was the chief deputy, to a private practice they started afterwards, to their current work at the Wilmington office of a Philadelphia-based firm.

Oberly and Jennings at odds is like Batman and Robin turning on each other.

Oberly comes unusually well-connected, the residual of a failed campaign to use his three terms as attorney general as a springboard to the U.S. Senate in 1994. While he came up short against Republican Bill Roth, he displayed a knack for associating with political talent.

Oberly's campaign consultant was David Axelrod, who became the senior adviser to Obama, and his campaign manager was David Plouffe, who ran Obama's presidential campaign.

It should not be forgotten that Oberly's most conspicuous political involvement of late was a cavalry-coming-over-the-hill press conference during the 2006 campaign. His purpose was to blunt Republican charges that Beau Biden was too callow for the voters to elect as attorney general.

Now Beau-the-son is the attorney general, and Joe-the-father is the vice president, deliberately without portfolio, because he wanted to be included in the entire spectrum of presidential action.

Anyone who thinks Joe Biden will keep hands off ought to check with John Carney. Ask him what happens when a perfectly respectable lieutenant governor wants his governor to appoint him to the U.S. Senate, but an ex-aide who is almost as close to Biden as a brother is available, too.