Posted: Dec. 17, 2009


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Three lawyers have a judgeship on their wish list this holiday season, but judgeships are like Zhu Zhu hamsters. There are not enough to go around.

Only one is available. It is the Superior Court judgeship being relinquished by John Babiarz, who is retiring after two terms for a total of 24 years on the bench.

Three candidates were forwarded from the Judicial Nominating Commission, the gubernatorial panel that screens the applicants, to Gov. Jack Markell for his consideration.

The list is said to be: Richard Andrews, the acting chief deputy attorney general; Pete Jones, a partner at Morris James; and Diane Clarke Streett, the New Castle County register of wills.

The judicial selection process is confidential, but there is so much interest in legal circles about the names that they are not hard to learn. Jones and Streett confirmed they were on the list. Andrews declined comment.

Once Markell decides on his appointment, it will be sent to the state Senate for confirmation. The governor expects to submit the nomination before the end of January, according to Joe Rogalsky, the communications director.

Markell is a Democrat, the Senate is controlled by Democrats, and all of the candidates are Democrats, but not because of partisanship. The state constitution requires the judiciary to be balanced politically, and Babiarz is a Democrat who has to be replaced by a Democrat to maintain the correct division.

The Superior Court has 19 judges, currently 10 Republicans and nine Democrats. It hears criminal and civil cases. The annual salary for a Superior Court judge is $166,025 after the pay cut implemented this year for state employees. Judicial pay is untouchable under the state constitution, but the judges volunteered to be part of the cost cutting.

Rarely have judicial candidates had such varied backgrounds.

Andrews came to the state Justice Department as a key appointee for Beau Biden, the Democratic attorney general elected in 2006. Andrews previously was the first assistant U.S. attorney, often filling in as the acting U.S. attorney.

Jones has a private practice, focusing on personal injury litigation, and also has quasi-judicial experience as a frequent mediator. He clerked for the Delaware Supreme Court.

Streett was elected twice as register of wills, after she was appointed to replace Joe Flickinger, a Republican who became a judge on the Court of Common Pleas. Streett also ran the Wilmington law department.

If Streett goes to the bench, Markell would have to name a new register of wills. Another wish list!