Posted: Feb. 19, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Calvin L. Scott Jr. looked as though he had won the quickest promotion in the history of the Delaware judiciary.

As soon as he had taken the oath Wednesday afternoon to become a Superior Court judge, Scott took his place on the bench behind the nameplate for the Supreme Court's chief justice. The truth, however, was that all of the nameplates for Scott's swearing-in ceremony were mixed up.

Scott sat behind the one for Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey. Superior Court President Judge Henry duPont Ridgely had the one for Superior Court Judge Richard R. Cooch, the resident judge for New Castle County. Cooch had Ridgely's, and Veasey had no nameplate at all.

Scott's investiture was the first to be held in the new New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington since it opened in September. Clearly, like the building itself, with its lamented security, heating and hot water problems, the ceremony had its share of glitches.

Because of the President's Day snowstorm, there was even a question of whether Scott's robing would go forward as planned. It did -- but with a diminished attendance.

"Not even the blizzard of 2003 will deter us from getting him on board as quickly as possibly," Ridgely quipped.

There were 260 seats available in Courtroom 8-B, a spacious chamber designated for special events, but only about 90 people were there, including Scott's new Superior Court colleagues, draped in their black robes with the red sashes they wear for ceremonial events.

Many of the new judge's family and friends were snowed out. So was Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, the first-term Democrat who appointed Scott. Attorney General M. Jane Brady, the third-term Republican who was there, said the weather also kept away a number of the Justice Department lawyers who worked with Scott before his elevation to the bench.

Among the missing were Chief Deputy Attorney General Ferris W. Wharton and Deputy Attorney General Paul R. Wallace, both of whom also were in the running for the judgeship. A fourth candidate, Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mary D. Johnston, didn't attend, either, but her husband William D. Johnston, the immediate past president of the Delaware State Bar Association, was there.

Scott, 47, of Newark, was selected to replace Superior Court Judge Carl Goldstein, who retired. Scott, like Goldstein, is a Republican to preserve the court's political balance, which is required by the state constitution. He will serve a 12-year term, which currently pays $140,200 a year, on the 19-judge court with both criminal and civil jurisdiction.

Whatever the glitches, the ceremony itself was a warm and gracious welcome for Scott to the bench. It included a symbolic passing of the torch from Joshua W. Martin III, known these days as the president of Verizon Delaware Inc.

In 1982, however, Martin was the first African-American to become a Superior Court judge and served there until 1989. Today the court has three black judges, including Scott.

Like the switched nameplates, there also were switched roles from Martin's own swearing-in. He noted that Veasey also had participated in that one in his capacity as the state bar association president.

"What a wonderful human being Calvin Scott is," Martin said. "Today we have every reason to believe the bench is stronger."

Another speaker was Patricia C. Hannigan, an assistant U.S. attorney who is the bar association president. Because of Scott's rise to the bench, she will have some extra work to do. Scott was serving as the bar association's vice president-at-large, slated to become the president-elect in July and the president in July 2004. Someone else must be found to take Scott's place in the lineup.

Hannigan predicted success for Scott on the bench -- "Lawyers and litigants who appear before him will know they have been heard" -- and offered him a sort of judicial benediction taken from Gilbert and Sullivan:

May each decree as statute rank/And never be reversed en banc!