Posted: June 29, 2005
GEBELEIN COULD LEAVE THE DELAWARE BENCH FOR BOSNIA
By Celia Cohen
Judge Richard S. Gebelein, who just completed a National Guard tour in Afghanistan, could resign from the Superior Court to take an international judgeship in Bosnia, if the state legislature cooperates by passing a bill making him eligible for his judicial pension.
Court officials and legislators were hustling to craft legislation that could be approved before the General Assembly quits for the year in the early hours of Friday morning, although it was still nip and tuck Wednesday and too soon to say whether Gov. Ruth Ann Minner would sign such a measure into law.
Gebelein himself is in Prague until July 11. He left Friday for the Czech Republic's capital for a follow-up assignment to his time in Afghanistan from last August to April, when he was on active duty as an army colonel in the Judge Advocate General's Corps.
As a result of Gebelein's international work, he is up for a prestigious appointment through the U.S. State Department to a court under the European Union with jurisdiction over war crimes and organized crime in Bosnia, according to Karin DuVall in Gebelein's judicial chambers. His term would begin in August and last from 12 months to 18 months.
Bosnia-Herzegovina emerged in the early 1990s from the former Yugoslavia and was ravaged by ethnic warfare, which led to the intervention of the international community and eventually a peace accord brokered in 1995 through the involvement of President Bill Clinton. An international force has been at work rebuilding the country since then, and Gebelein would be part of that effort.
The appointment would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Gebelein and a milestone for Delaware.
"It's truly spectacular. A first for a Delaware judge. In the vernacular, he has earned his stripes," said Superior Court Judge Jerome O. Herlihy, who has known him since Gebelein was a deputy attorney general and Herlihy was the chief deputy under Attorney General W. Laird Stabler Jr., a Republican elected to a four-year term in 1970.
Gebelein was expected to resume his tenure on the Superior Court when he returned from Afghanistan, but he knew as his tour ended that his perspective was not the same. Perhaps the pull toward Bosnia was inevitable.
"I am absolutely sure I have changed. Being here and witnessing the labor pains of a new democracy has given me a different sense of what is important," he wrote in e-mail to Delaware Grapevine in March.
Gebelein first explored the possibility of legislation that would grant him a sabbatical, but it became more practical for him to tack onto a bill that would let judges count their years of other state employment toward their judicial pensions.
Gebelein, 59, has been on the Superior Court since 1984 with his current term set to expire in 2008. He was elected to one term as a Republican attorney general in 1978, in addition to his previous government work as a deputy attorney general and an assistant public defender.
As originally proposed, the judicial pension bill was no sure thing. It was not an initiative of the judicial branch, and it was said to be written for two judges -- Superior Court Judge Fred S. Silverman and Common Pleas Court Judge John K. Welch.
Because of Gebelein, however, the legislation is being redrafted and rapidly gaining backers -- including Chief Justice Myron T. Steele.
"This opportunity for Rich won't be there forever. It's either strike now or it won't happen," Steele said. "It's a high-profile job, at least in the international judicial community. I'm happy for Rich, I'm happy for Superior Court, and I'm happy for the publicity it would bring Delaware."
Legislators are trying to make the opportunity possible.
"Just like anyone in our Guard who has served, he's a hero, and his service went above and beyond the call of duty, being a practicing judge and going to Afghanistan," said state Rep. Robert J. Valihura Jr., a Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee.
"If we can do it, we should do it."