Posted: May 12, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is nothing quite so tricky as a good old-fashioned political shell game.

It is like the game on the street. Whether it is nutshells or politics, the idea is to get people to find nothing there.

Delaware is having a run of them right now. Presidential politics is involved in one. Likewise judicial politics. In -- ahem! -- a nutshell, here is what nobody is supposed to be figuring out:

Hillary Clinton is in. Chandlee Johnson Kuhn is out.

In presidential politics, Clinton's campaign is quietly easing its way in, as though it is trying to hide under a shell. This is presumably because it does not want to overstep itself in a state that has claimed a share of glory as the stepmother of vice presidents, the best it could do considering as how "Our Joe" made such a big thing out of being born in Scranton.

In judicial politics, Kuhn is quietly being axed as the chief judge of the Family Court, but it is a deep dark secret. A shell of silence has been placed over this, and nobody is supposed to be talking, but secrets are hard to keep in a state this small.

Sooner or later, of course, everything will be public, except it was supposed to be later, not sooner.

Hillary for America has assigned an operative to set up a Hillary for Delaware offshoot here. The state Democratic Party knows it, and the Clinton campaign knows that the Democratic Party knows it, but it is delicate as long as Joe Biden plays Hamlet. To run or not to run?

What a situation. Presidential politics is frozen because of Joe, and gubernatorial politics is frozen because of Beau.

In the meantime, there is this arm's length relationship with the state Democrats holding their peace about being ready for Hillary and Clinton keeping hers about being ready for Delaware.

It extended to letting the Clinton campaign hold an organizing meeting Saturday at the Sussex County Democratic headquarters in Georgetown.

"The party is neutral. If there is any declared candidate who wants to use the headquarters, we'll give them access," said Mitch Crane, the Sussex Democratic chair.

"If Joe Biden decides to run for president, I'm sure the leadership of our party will support him, including me. He's our favorite son."

If the door in presidential politics is ajar to Clinton, the one in judicial politics slammed on Kuhn.

After 17 years on the Family Court, the last 12 as the chief judge, Kuhn is on her way out when her term expires on June 4. It is exceedingly rare for a judge not to be reappointed, but grumbling behind the scenes about a lax administrative style apparently caught up with her.

The first public sign of trouble came last month when a notice from the Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens candidates for the governor, announced it would be accepting applications simultaneously for chief judge and for judge, "if a sitting judge of the Family Court is nominated to be chief judge."

There was speculation this meant that the situation would be finessed with a Family Court judge -- the one mentioned most often was Mike Newell -- stepping up to be installed as the chief judge and Kuhn stepping back to judge, but it does not look like it is working out that way.

Kuhn did not make the cut from the Judicial Nominating Commission for either chief judge or judge, the Delaware Grapevine has learned, in spite of stern warnings to all involved not to leak a word of it.

Technically it is still not over for Kuhn, because Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, has the right to ask the commission to revisit its recommendations, but that is regarded as unlikely.

In this judicial shell game, Kuhn does not get found anywhere.