Posted: Jan. 7, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

In a quick round of telephone calls late Friday afternoon, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner notified Superior Court Judge William L. Witham Jr. that she wants him promoted to Kent County resident judge and told Dover lawyer Robert B. Young that he was her choice to slide into the seat Witham would vacate.

The governor raced to complete the nominations so they would be ready for Senate confirmation when the General Assembly returns to Dover next week for the start of the 2005 session.

Minner's schedule was so full that Witham learned of his appointment through a telephone message, although the governor did manage a personal call to Young minutes before 5 p.m. It was all done in so much of a rush that her office dispensed with the customary press release accompanying judicial appointments.

Witham and Young did not seem to mind. They simply sounded happy to be selected.

Minner praised Witham for what she called a "sterling reputation on the bench" and said Young "impressed me with his mind and integrity and will make a good addition to Delaware's well-respected bench," according to Joseph C. Schoell, the governor's legal counsel.

Although Minner is a Democrat, she had to select Republicans for both openings to maintain the court's political balance required by the state constitution. If confirmed, Witham and Young would serve 12-year terms on the state's largest court, which has 19 judges who hear criminal and civil cases.

Witham, 57, of Dover, is in line to move up to resident judge, responsible for running the Kent County Courthouse, virtually by default. The county has three Superior Court judges, and the other two were promoted away, leaving Witham for the assignment.

The resident judgeship became open after Henry duPont Ridgely moved from Superior Court president judge to the Supreme Court, and Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. was promoted from resident judge to president judge.

Witham, who has been on the Superior Court since 1999, already is serving as the acting resident judge. "I don't envision too much change down here," he said.

Young, 61, of Dover, is the president of the Delaware State Bar Association and has a civil litigation practice with his son. Beyond his legal work, he is known around Dover as the wit who invented the biography for W.T. Smithers printed on the menu of the restaurant by the same name. Young embellished the handful of facts that were known about the real Smithers to create a life.

"We had enough documents to make it seem real," Young said.

He had just enough contact with the governor to make his nomination real, too.