Posted: April 29, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

The names for two prime judicial openings for a Supreme Court justice and the Family Court's chief judge have been sent to the governor, and as usual their cover has been blown, with the names flying around the Delaware bench and bar in a gossipy rush.

There are said to be three names on the list for the Supreme Court. They are Vice Chancellor Jack B. Jacobs, Superior Court Judge John E. Babiarz Jr. and former Attorney General Charles M. Oberly III, now with the Wilmington law firm of Oberly Jennings & Rhodunda.

There are said to be four names on the list for the Family Court. They are Family Court Judges Chandlee Johnson Kuhn and Kenneth M. Millman, Chief Magistrate Patricia W. Griffin and James G. McGiffin Jr., the executive director of the Community Legal Aid Society Inc.

Matthew P. Denn, counsel to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, confirmed that the governor has received the lists of candidates but otherwise remained mum about what is supposed to be a dignified and confidential judicial selection process, low on politics and leaks.

Ha! For matters not illegal, immoral or fattening, there is probably nothing that generates more interest among the state's judges and lawyers than vacancies on the bench, and so the identities of those in the running inevitably become an open secret.

Interest may be even more intense than usual in this round because of the nature of the positions that are open -- a seat on the state's highest court and the ranking judgeship on one of the state's six courts.

The posts were occupied by Supreme Court Justice Joseph T. Walsh, who is retiring on Thursday after more than 30 years in the state court system, and Family Court Chief Judge Vincent J. Poppiti, who left March 31 after 24 years on the judiciary to become a partner at Blank Rome, a Philadelphia-based law firm with a Wilmington office.

The candidates to replace Walsh and Poppiti came from a pool of applicants to the Judicial Nominating Commission, which is responsible for evaluating them and forwarding the lists of potential appointees to the governor.

After Minner chooses her nominees, she will send her choices to the state Senate for confirmation for 12-year terms. The current salary for a Supreme Court justice is $147,000 a year, and for the Family Court chief judge, it is $145,300 a year.

Delaware is the only state that requires political balance on its judiciary, but the openings are such in this round that Minner, a first-term Democrat, has the leeway to fill the vacancies from either party.

The departure of Walsh, a Democrat, leaves the five-member Supreme Court with two Democrats and two Republicans. All three of the potential replacements are Democrats.

Similarly, the 15-member Family Court without Poppiti, a Democrat, is left with a 7-7 split between Democrats and Republicans. Millman and Kuhn are Republicans, and Griffin and McGiffin are Democrats.

All of the candidates either did not return telephone calls or sedately declined to talk, but it hardly matters with the way the bench and bar are buzzing about them.