Posted: June 9, 2008


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is something uncannily familiar about the pool of candidates said to be recommended to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner for an opening on the Superior Court.

The list has a lot in common with names that once went to the governor before, only to be shoved aside by unabashed deal making that took Jane Brady from attorney general to judge.

Brady's nomination in 2005 was one of the most tumultuous ever, its arrangement jolting Delaware's legal circles where they are not so naive as to think politics is removed from judicial appointments but prefer it to be discreet enough for everyone to look the other way.

By executive order, Minner is bound to select someone for Senate confirmation from the candidates recommended to her by the Judicial Nominating Commission, which is responsible for screening applicants -- in this case to replace Judge Susan Del Pesco, who retired last month.

Minner expects to submit her choice in time for the Senate to consider it before the legislative session ends June 30, according to Kate Bailey, the governor's communications director.

The vacancy is the first for the Superior Court since Brady joined it. The commission essentially recycled names that were cast aside to put her on the bench, so it sure looks as though it was sending not only a list but a message.

It does not take a code breaker to decipher that the commission is all but saying, there but for a political deal, one of these people should have been a judge.

The list forwarded to the governor is confidential, but Delaware is too porous for secrets. The four names believed to be on it are circulating among the bench and bar.

Three of them lost out to Brady. They are: John Parkins, a partner at Richards Layton & Finger and a former chief of the state Justice Department's appeals division; Jan van Amerongen, a Wilmington lawyer; and Paul Wallace, a deputy attorney general.

The fourth candidate is Andrea Rocanelli, the chief disciplinary counsel responsible for policing lawyer misconduct for the Supreme Court. She is an addition who did not apply when Brady was up for the nomination.

All are Republicans. Although Minner is a Democrat, the new judge must be from the other party because of a constitutional requirement, unique in the country, for political balance in the judiciary.

Only Rocanelli acknowledged she was being considered, saying, "Being a judge on Superior Court is a tremendous responsibility. I would be honored to continue my public service to the people of the state of Delaware as a judicial officer." The others either declined comment or were unavailable.

It was an alliance of mutual convenience when Minner named Brady to an earlier Superior Court vacancy that also had to go to a Republican.

Minner benefited because it let her appoint a Democrat of her choosing to serve out Brady's term as attorney general and boosted the Democrats' chances of taking the post outright in 2006. Brady benefited because it gave her an escape hatch from a harrowing re-election campaign against Beau Biden, the senator's son who did win for the Democrats.

There is no such politicking in the replacement for Del Pesco, although possibly there could have been. State Rep. Bob Valihura, a Brandywine Hundred Republican who is a lawyer, was said to be interested in the appointment, but he did not make cut by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Valihura potentially had a constitutional problem because of a provision that prevents lawmakers from assuming offices that either were created or had the compensation increased during their terms, and the salary for Superior Court judges was hiked $750 last year to $168,850.

The commission never has to explain its decisions. Maybe the constitutional question undid Valihura, maybe something else, or maybe the prospect of two politicians for two Superior Court judgeships in a row was just too much.