Posted: June 5, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Ferris Wharton has been in front of a slew of juries, accomplished lawyer that he is, but no jury turned out to be easier than the most recent one.

It was the state Senate. It cleared him to become a judge. The verdict was quick and unanimous.

Wharton was confirmed Wednesday by a vote of 21-0 for a judgeship on the Superior Court, the state's largest bench with a wide-ranging docket of criminal and civil cases, for a 12-year term to replace Charles Toliver, who retired.

If anyone walks, talks, sleeps and breathes the Superior Court, it is Wharton.

He has been trying cases there for 30 years in a life as a lawyer going back to 1978, most of that time as a prosecutor with the state Attorney General's Office, but also with the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Public Defender's Office, where he is now.

Along the way Wharton became a household name as one of the prosecutors who did not let Tom Capano get away with murder.

Wharton also made a mark as the only Republican with the gumption to run against Beau Biden, who won their race in 2006 to become the Democratic attorney general.

Not that the senators really cared about all that. In the small-world-after-all setting of Legislative Hall in Dover, there is something that trumps all else. Patti Blevins, the Democratic president pro tem who chaired Wharton's confirmation hearing before the Executive Committee, flat out said it.

"I think we've all known you for a long time," Blevins said.

That was that. The hearing lasted five minutes. Five minutes! There were no questions for Wharton about the death penalty, minimum mandatory sentences, bail, whatever. There was one exchange, though, about where he went to high school, just to put on the record that Wharton and Blevins are both Mount Pleasant graduates.

It did not even matter that Wharton is a Republican. The state constitution requires the courts to be balanced politically, and Wharton was up for a Republican judgeship, so it was no big deal to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor who nominated him, or the Senate's Democratic majority.

In fact, there was some playful banter that if any senators were going to vote against Wharton, it would be the Republicans.

It seems that Wharton is a star player in the annual volleyball match the Republicans play against the Democrats in the Easter Seals tournament, where the Republicans lead by 6-3.

The Republicans beat the Democrats in so little in this state that Greg Lavelle, the Senate's Republican minority whip who also captains the volleyball team, quipped they were not so sure they wanted to gain a judge but lose a player. It all worked out when the Republicans discovered Wharton could still participate.

Maybe the Democrats should have cut a deal. Since the game takes place on a court, they should have agreed to let the new judge play, but only if he wears his robe.

# # #

Christine O'Donnell gave people a jolt on Wednesday morning with a blast e-mail.

The subject line read: "My Official Announcement for the 2014 U.S. Senate Seat."

It was nothing but a tease from O'Donnell, the Tea Party Republican who upended state politics in 2010 by upsetting Mike Castle, then the Republican congressman, in a primary but losing the race for a Senate seat that otherwise had been all-but-conceded to the Republicans.

O'Donnell was not announcing she was running. She was announcing she was not running.

Still, that information was buried so deeply beneath the customary political blather -- "Many of you have encouraged me to run in this year's mid-term election" -- that various news outlets missed it and reported she was going to run. Yikes.

It was enough to make John Fluharty, the Delaware Republicans' executive director, channel the talking Barbie doll that once prattled most unfortunately that math class is tough.

Fluharty quipped, "In the words of Barbie, reading is hard."