Posted: Jan. 27, 2011


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

There is a new twist in the dawdling, grinding, frustrating tangle for getting the U.S. District Court in Wilmington up to its full complement of four judges.

Linda Ammons, the Widener law school dean, was considered the favorite to fill a vacancy on the bench but now is said to be out of the running, Delaware Grapevine has learned.

It means the wait for relief stretches on for the overburdened court, which has been down a judge because of one vacancy or another for four years and counting.

This is no way to run a courthouse for a bench that is nationally recognized for its disposition of patent and trademark cases and thereby does its part to make the state the destination-of-choice for business law. Something is bound to give eventually.

Judicial selection is designed to be cloaked in confidentiality, but this is Delaware, where nothing stays secret for long. Including this.

Ammons emerged as the front-runner after Tom Carper, the Democratic senior senator, sent a list of three judicial candidates to the White House to consider for the lifetime appointment, which also requires confirmation by the Senate.

During the standard pre-nomination vetting, Ammons appears to have been waylaid because of her lack of trial experience. Her legal career has taken her to academic assignments here and in Ohio and a government post in Ohio but not to the courtroom. Nor is she admitted to practice law in Delaware, although she is a member of the Ohio bar.

With Ammons out, there is new life for the two other candidates whom Carper recommended. They are Richard Andrews, the state prosecutor who knows the federal courthouse well as a former first assistant U.S. attorney, and C.J. Seitz, a lawyer at the Wilmington firm of Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz with a practice in the intellectual property matters the federal court is known for.

A new judge is needed to replace Joe Farnan, who retired at the end of July and opened a law office. He left the bench just as Len Stark was coming on to fill a vacancy that had lasted from December 2006. It meant the court still was operating with three judges, not four.

Judicial vacancies are not something that generates much in the way of public comments, not with the presumption of confidentiality, not with a lifetime appointment at stake, not with the involvement of the state's senior senator and quite plausibly the vice president.

Ammons, Andrews and Seitz either were unavailable or unwilling to comment. Ed Freel, a former secretarty of state who advises Carper on judicial appointments, also declined to comment.

There is a sense that Seitz could have the edge now. If so, it would mean double appointments in the family. Virginia Seitz, his sister who is a lawyer in Washington, is up for Senate confirmation after President Obama nominated her earlier this month for his Office of Legal Counsel.

Public life is in the family bloodline. Their father was the late Collins Seitz, one of the most revered judges ever to sit in Delaware. He delivered the seminal decision leading up to Brown v. Board, the Supreme Court's famed ruling in 1954 against school segregation.

Waiting for a new judge has all but become a way of life for the federal bench, and there is no telling how long it will go on. Not to mention the possibility that the search for judicial candidates could even be reopened. It would not please the court.