Posted: Aug. 26, 2005


Ferris W. Wharton, the other lawyer in the Capano case, did not go unnoticed when he showed up two weeks ago at the retirement ceremony sending Superior Court Judge Richard S. Gebelein off to Bosnia.

Sure, Wharton got his start as a prosecutor 25 years ago under Gebelein, who was a single-term Republican attorney general elected in 1978, but there seemed to be more to it than that.

Wharton's presence fueled speculation that the opening for Gebelein's seat has renewed his interest in a Superior Court judgeship. He has applied before.

Although the judicial selection process is confidential, it is hardly a secret that Wharton previously has been a finalist in tough competition for a Republican seat on the Superior Court, which the state constitution requires to be balanced politically.

Wharton was on the short list when Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a Democrat, put Calvin L. Scott Jr. on the court in 2003, and he was on it again when the appointment went to Mary M. Johnston later that same year.

In the meantime, Wharton has been working as a federal prosecutor, leaving his job as the chief deputy attorney general two years ago at the invitation of U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly, who was his high-profile partner in putting away Thomas J. Capano for murdering Anne Marie Fahey, the scheduler for U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper when he was the Democratic governor.

Finding a replacement for Gebelein is the most prominent judicial opening that Minner currently has to fill. She also has to name two Family Court judges to newly created seats there.

In addition, the terms of Common Pleas Chief Judge Alex J. Smalls and Superior Court Judges Fred S. Silverman and William C. Carpenter Jr. are expiring, but there is little chance for anyone new to get those judgeships.

All of them have applied for reappointment.

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The mysterious departure of a top corporate lawyer from Richards Layton & Finger, the largest and one of the most prestigious firms in Delaware, has stirred the interest of the state's ever-curious bar and bench.

Kevin G. Abrams, a 20-year lawyer long on connections and credentials, abruptly left Richards without so much as a mention. His name has disappeared from the firm's Web site, and it is even gone from the e-listings of Martindale-Hubbell, a comprehensive nationwide lawyer locator.

Abrams is believed to have departed last month, but not much more is known. In a state bar where everyone seems to know everyone else's business, lawyers from other firms were surprised to be stonewalled when they asked questions about Abrams to Richards lawyers, even close friends.

Whatever happened, people at the firm were directed not to talk about it, and Richards' management offered only an opaque, three-sentence statement through Gregory P. Williams, the incoming president, and that was that.

"Kevin left the firm for personal reasons which the firm will not discuss with third parties and which have nothing to do with his performance as a lawyer. Kevin is an excellent lawyer, and we expect to be working with him on matters involving mutual clients. We wish Kevin the best of luck as he continues his career," Williams read.

Abrams has a classic Delaware resume. He is the son of Richard J. Abrams, a respected lawyer now retired from Richards, and his law degree in 1984 came from the University of Virginia, a state favorite. Chief Justice Myron T. Steele earned his law degree there.

Richards is not known for shedding its leading lawyers lightly. If they do leave before retirement, it tends to be accompanied with fanfare -- such as E. Norman Veasey going directly from the firm to Delaware chief justice or Thomas L. Ambro catapulting to the federal appeals court, both so well-regarded they ascended without a shred of judicial experience.

It is different with Kevin Abrams, who did not even return a telephone call for comment.