Posted: Aug. 11, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The Delaware Superior Court said good-bye Wednesday afternoon to Richard S. Gebelein, mustering out its soldier judge in a Johnny-goes-marching-off-again ceremony of judicial ruffles and flourishes.

Gebelein's departure was billed officially as a retirement, but it is not exactly a gold watch and easy chair retirement.

After spending the better part of the last year on a National Guard tour in Afghanistan as a colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, Gebelein discovered that his call-up was really a calling. He came away from it committed to participating in instituting the rule of law in rebuilding nations.

At 59, Gebelein took an early retirement from the court he joined in 1984 to accept a prestigious international appointment on a tribunal dealing with war crimes and organized crime in Bosnia-Herzegovina, still recovering from the ethnic warfare it endured after emerging from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

His formal farewell from the state judiciary was held in Wilmington at the New Castle County Courthouse in a packed courtroom of more than 100 people, including many fellow judges and state prosecutors who worked for Gebelein after he was elected in 1978 to a single term as a Republican attorney general.

The ceremony had a martial tinge to it and an air that Gebelein was reporting for duty, not leaving it.

"We lose a good soldier," said Delaware Chief Justice Myron T. Steele, a retired JAG officer himself.

It has been an extraordinary ride for Gebelein, and he took the state with him through his perceptive e-mail home from Afghanistan. His stature became such that the list of speakers at his retirement ceremony looked like a dress rehearsal for the 2006 statewide ballot. Everyone wanted a piece of this glory.

There were remarks from U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a Republican, as well as from Attorney General M. Jane Brady, a Republican, and Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, regarded as the Democrats' unannounced candidate for attorney general. Biden got into the lineup by reading a letter from his father-the-senator, who was out of state.

Gebelein, an old campaigner himself, sat through it all with an expression of wry skepticism, except for those moments when he lost himself in laughter.

Vincent J. Bifferato Sr., a longtime friend who is a retired Superior Court resident judge for New Castle County, got to him the most, especially when Bifferato recounted the time that Gebelein, as a young law clerk, was given a pornography case to research.

"Being as thorough as he is, he insisted upon viewing all of the evidence," Bifferato teased.

For good measure, Bifferato took a poke at Gebelein's demeanor, which has never been gung ho but gung ho-hum. "I hear he's a colonel. To me he never looked like a colonel," Bifferato quipped.

Carper also got in on the military word play, basing it on the elected office that Gebelein held. "Long before you were a colonel, you were a general," he joked.

"I'm an old Navy guy," added Carper, a flight officer during the Vietnam War. "I wish you fair winds and a following sea, my friend."

Gebelein's appointment in Bosnia will last two years and can be extended. Yes, he said, he will be sending e-mail home.