Posted: July 6, 2005; updated: July 7, 2005


Going, going, Gebelein

Judge Richard S. Gebelein has the go-ahead he needed from the legislature to take an early retirement from the Superior Court so he can accept a prestigious international judgeship in Bosnia.

Before the 2005 legislative session ended in the early morning hours Friday, the lawmakers passed a bill that would let Gebelein, who has been on the bench since 1984, qualify for his judicial pension by counting his time with the Justice Department, which he ran for a term as a Republican attorney general elected in 1978 after working there.

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner also chimed in for Gebelein by signing the bill into law on Thursday. Gebelein's departure would give her a chance to appoint another judge, even if it would have to be a Republican to maintain the court's mandatory political balance. Minner, a second-term Democrat, never has been known to be fond of the other party.

Gebelein is in Prague in the Czech Republic until Monday. He is on a follow-up assignment to his recent National Guard service in Afghanistan as a colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the tour that propelled him into nation building and international law.

If all goes as planned, Gebelein would be appointed through the U.S. State Department to a European Union court dealing with war crimes and organized crime in Bosnia, which was devastated by ethnic warfare in the 1990s. His term would begin in August and last from 12 months to 18 months.

Gebelein would be joining an elite rank of Delaware's legal profession with international experience.

George Gray, a New Castle lawyer who served as a U.S. senator and federal judge in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, represented the country on a number of international commissions and also sat on the International Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

John Bassett Moore, a Smyrna lawyer, is prominent as an assistant secretary of state who became the first American judge on the World Court in the 1920s.

He is remembered through the John Bassett Moore Society of International Law at the University of Virginia law school, but his hometown did not forget him, either. Smyrna has a public school named for him, even if does not have quite the same ring to it.

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More judges to come

Gov. Minner has more judicial nominations to consider beyond an anticipated replacement for Gebelein.

The 12-year terms of three judges are expiring in October. They are Common Pleas Court Chief Judge Alex J. Smalls and Superior Court Judges Fred S. Silverman and William C. Carpenter Jr.

The reappointment of sitting judges almost always is routine, and there are no indications to the contrary as of now. The state Senate will have to be called into special session in the fall to vote on confirmation.

In addition, Minner has to fill two new openings on the Family Court, both of them New Castle County seats. The positions were authorized in the new budget bill she signed into law early Friday morning.

Once Minner dispenses with the appointment for the Common Pleas chief judge, it means she will have named the ranking judge on five of the six state courts, leaving Chancellor William B. Chandler III as the only one whose 12-year term from 1997 to 2009 leapfrogs her.

Minner elevated Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. and Family Court Chief Judge Chandlee Johnson Kuhn in her first term.

Then last month the Senate confirmed the governor's choice for a new chief magistrate, unanimously approving Alan G. Davis to run the Justice of the Peace Court.

Davis got his roll call on June 14, but he is delaying his swearing-in until July 12, primarily because he was working as an attorney in the state House of Representatives and knew better than to desert before the end of the session.

"You be nice to me," he said he joked to some lawmakers after he was confirmed.

"You'll need us before we need you," they said.