Posted: Dec. 3, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Four judges went into the Judicial Nominating Commission, and four judges came out of the Judicial Nominating Commission with their candidacies for chief justice still alive, Delaware Grapevine has learned.

A round of interviews conducted on Monday by the commission, which is responsible for screening applicants and recommending a list of finalists to the governor, did nothing to winnow the selection.

This was not a surprise, not with a field as strong as this one. It has Carolyn Berger, the Supreme Court justice, Leo Strine Jr., the chancellor of the Court of Chancery, Jim Vaughn Jr., the Superior Court president judge, and Jan Jurden, the Superior Court judge.

Now it is up to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, to decide on a nominee to send to the state Senate for confirmation once the Delaware General Assembly returns in January.

Nothing leading up to Markell's decision is supposed to be known publicly, but the interest in finding a replacement for Myron Steele, who retired Nov. 30 after nine years as chief justice, is too intense for it to stay quiet. Besides, this state is way too small for keeping secrets.

It is a testament to the self-selection of the bench and bar that all of the applicants made it through the nominating commission.

As Patti Blevins, the Senate's Democratic president pro tem said when their candidacies first circulated, "Any one of them could be confirmed, I believe. I really hope the Judicial Nominating Commission sends all four names to the governor."

All of the candidates are Democrats, although a Republican could have been in the running because of the constitutional requirement for political balance in the judiciary. Without Steele, a Democrat, the court has two Democratic and two Republican justices.

As a matter of fact, there is still considerable mourning within legal and legislative circles that Randy Holland, a Republican justice, did not put in his name, although there is at least some temporary consolation for now.

As long as the state is chief justice-less, Holland takes over as the senior justice.

"When the chief justice either resigns or retires, the next senior justice would take the lead for any administrative matter or any Supreme Court matter, and he of course would consult with the remainder of the justices," said Steve Taylor, the Supreme Court administrator.

As is Steele's fashion, he exited quietly, although the other justices did insist on hosting a retirement dinner for him last week at the Wilmington Club.

People who were there said about a hundred guests attended, no speeches, and if anyone was looking for clues about Steele's own favorite as his replacement, Strine was present, but not Vaughn and not Jurden. Berger, of course, was one of the hosts.

After 25 years as a trial judge, vice chancellor, justice and chief justice, Steele will be returning to private practice. He will join Potter Anderson & Corroon, one of the state's top law firms, according to a press release last week.

It is only fitting. In an earlier incarnation, the firm was known as Southerland Berl & Potter, and it was Clarence Southerland, the senior partner, who became the first chief justice when the modern Supreme Court was created in 1951.

A firm that contributed a chief justice now gets one back.