Posted: Nov. 9, 2005


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

The state Senate was droning through its one-day special session Tuesday, sleepwalking through a suffocating list of nominations, when Joseph A. Hurley woke it up in a hurry.

Forty-two nominations already had been considered. Forty-two nominations already had been confirmed unanimously, 21-0, for everything from a new 12-year term for Chief Judge Alex J. Smalls on the Court of Common Pleas to something called the Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board.

Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Bridgeville Democrat who is the president pro tem, was ready to do the same with the climactic nomination, the one to make Republican Attorney General M. Jane Brady a Superior Court judge, when Hurley was granted time to speak.

Joe Hurley is a noted Wilmington defense attorney, known for his courtroom theatrics, and he was bringing his act to Legislative Hall in Dover. He once tried to play the theme music for "The Godfather" when an unsavory witness took the stand in a corruption trial, until an exasperated judge made him stop it immediately. He was in that sort of mood again.

Hurley wanted the senators to know there was trouble right here in the capital city, and that starts with "T" and it rhymes with "P" and that stands for politics.

He said it was politics, politics! that had Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a two-term Democrat, choosing Brady over other candidates who did not have such political connections, notably some prosecutors he would have preferred, and the Senate was being asked to go along with it.

"Corruption is corruption, whether it's cash or a deal that violates the rules," Hurley said. "You, this group of honored people, are a casualty, as well. They can't do it without you."

Hurley unfurled a sign, hand-lettered on white poster paper, reading, "Judgeship for sale."

For someone who makes his living persuading juries, Hurley obviously had not thought much about the sort of jurors he was facing in the Senate chamber. They thought politics was a perfectly good way to get a job. They all had.

Nor was it just the simple, civics-book politics of asking for votes. They had increased the odds for themselves by drawing their own districts, and every now and then there had been occasions when a legislator of one party did not have an opponent because a legislator of the other party did not have one, either.

Joe Hurley accomplished something that seemed to be impossible. He turned Jane Brady into a sympathetic character.

Senators from both sides of the aisle rose in her defense. Everything that had made Brady such a contrary figure in 15 years of politics was eclipsed.

Gone was her reputation as a sucker-punching campaigner, dating back to her first unsuccessful race in 1990 against U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., when she taunted him with the plagiarism charges and resume padding that sunk his bid for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.

Gone was her 1996 appearance on "Rivera Live," the tabloid television show, when she shocked the state and nation by discussing the eligibility of the death penalty for Amy Grossberg and Brian Peterson Jr., New Jersey college students who eventually were jailed in the killing of their newborn son in Newark. (Hurley, incidentally, was Peterson's lawyer in that one.)

Gone was her high-profile wrangling two years ago with E. Norman Veasey, then the Delaware chief justice, over the death penalty and with U.S. District Chief Judge Sue L. Robinson over abortion. And so on.

What emerged was the Jane Brady who drove back from Connecticut with no notice to aid state Sen. Robert L. Venables Sr., a Laurel Democrat, in a fruitless attempt to keep a suspect in prison for a ruthless crime, stabbing a young woman 47 times, cutting her throat and carving a smiley face in her back.

"It showed a side of Brady that maybe a lot of people didn't see," Venables said. "I think she'll do a good job as a Superior Court judge because she has a big heart."

What emerged was the warm relationship Brady had with a number of senators, including Sen. John C. Still III, the Dover Republican who is the minority leader. Still had this exchange with her during her confirmation hearing earlier in the day:

"I've known you longer than my wife. We go back to grade school," Still said.

"Our relationship is different," Brady quipped.

The senators had an instinctive respect for someone who ran statewide four times and won three times as attorney general, but Hurley never got it. "She's a dedicated attorney general, but so was Richard Nixon a dedicated president," he said.

The senators know how judges are made. In recent years they have confirmed Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr., a Democrat whose father is Sen. James T. Vaughn Sr., a Clayton Democrat, and Family Court Chief Judge Chandlee Johnson Kuhn, a Republican whose father-in-law was an old college roommate of Thurman Adams at the University of Delaware, and Chief Magistrate Alan G. Davis, a Democrat whose uncle is Edward R. "Ned" Davis, a Dover lobbyist and close political adviser to the governor.

"We all know this is a political process, appointing judges. It's intended to be," said Sen. Patricia M. Blevins, an Elsmere Democrat. "As a Democrat who worked against her [Brady's] election or re-election three times, I can't say anything negative about her legal mind."

Brady did not have a relative in the chamber, but she was confirmed ringingly, 20-1. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Democratic Majority Leader Harris B. McDowell III, the "clean hands" senator from Wilmington.

Hurley did accomplish something, however. He ensured that Brady will never hear a case of his.

"I probably will have to recuse myself. It would probably be best," Brady said after her confirmation.

Brady has 30 days to wrap up her political life and take her oath. Tentatively she is planning to be sworn in on Dec. 7, the fitting convergence of Delaware Day, the anniversary of the state's glory when it became the first to ratify the Constitution in 1787, and Pearl Harbor Day, a day of sabotage and infamy.

Brady will be a judge, and like all judges, she will know how she got there. A number of them were in Dover for the confirmations, so many of them that it was noted in a conversation between Alan Davis, the chief magistrate, and Common Pleas Judge Rosemary Betts Beauregard, a Democrat whose late father A. Dean Betts was a Democratic powerhouse in Sussex County.

"I wonder how justice is being meted out today," Davis said.

"It's not," Beauregard replied. "Politics is being meted out today."