Posted: Sept. 15, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Attorney General M. Jane Brady has applied for a Superior Court judgeship, an extraordinary turnaround that would take her out of the running for re-election if she is appointed and portends a seismic shake-up in Delaware politics.

Brady, a three-term Republican, notified her staff by e-mail Thursday that she was interested in taking the seat created by Judge Richard S. Gebelein's early retirement, according to Carl C. Danberg, the chief deputy attorney general who spoke on behalf of his boss because she was out of town.

Brady's announcement came within hours of the noon deadline for applying for the judgeship, which opened last month after Gebelein left for a prestigious post on an international tribunal in Bosnia, and it ended days of frantic speculation about what Brady would do.

As late as Sunday, Brady was holding a fund raiser for a re-election campaign in 2006 and had her options still open. She kept her fellow Republicans in the dark about her intentions, and if she becomes a judge, she will leave them out in the cold, reducing an already depleted party to only two of the nine statewide elected officials.

The Republicans are flabbergasted.

"She has not talked with me," said Terry A. Strine, the Republican state chairman. "We want to know."

Brady, 54, of Lewes, is not guaranteed the judgeship, although it must go to a Republican because of a requirement in the state constitution for political balance on the court. Like other applicants, she has to be screened by the Judicial Nominating Commission and make it onto a list of finalists recommended to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

The governor, a two-term Democrat, has to select a nominee from the list and submit the choice for confirmation to the state Senate, where the Democrats hold a 13-8 majority. A special session to consider this appointment and others is set for Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Although there are a lot of pitfalls along the way, it seems unlikely that Brady would expose herself politically without some expectation that she would wind up on the bench. In fact, it appears she can count on a cordial reception from the Senate.

"If the governor appoints her, I don't think there'll be any problem getting her confirmed," said Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., a Bridgeville Democrat.

"You know I have to support a Sussex Countian," he added.

If Brady moves to the bench, Minner would get to appoint a new attorney general -- no doubt a Democrat -- to serve out Brady's term for roughly a year.

It would put the office in the control of the Democratic Party for the first time since Brady's election in 1994, when she succeeded Charles M. Oberly III, a Democrat who set the record that she shares for three terms as attorney general.

It also would strengthen the Democrats for the 2006 election, when the party is expected to field Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III, the senator's son, by removing an incumbent, even though Brady was regarded as a weak one after polling only 48 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 2002.

If Brady departs from politics, she would be the second Republican officeholder in two elections to do so, rather than run for re-election in this increasingly Democratic state. Insurance Commissioner Donna Lee Williams blindsided her fellow Republicans in 2004 by bowing out unexpectedly after three terms. Democrat Matthew P. Denn was elected to the office.

"I think Jane's looking at an uphill battle for re-election, and this is a good place for her to go and retire," said Sussex County Republican Chairman William Swain Lee, a retired Superior Court judge himself who ran for governor last year.

Without Brady, the Republicans would be down to two statewide officials, both of whom are up for election in 2006. They are U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, a former two-term governor who holds the state record of seven terms in the House of Representatives, and state Auditor R. Thomas Wagner Jr., who has been in office since 1989.

Castle routinely polls 70 percent of the vote and never seems threatened. Wagner does not have a Democratic opponent yet, but the way the Republican Party is going, he probably ought to be looking over his shoulder.