Posted: April 19, 2004
STEELE NAMED CHIEF JUSTICE
By Celia Cohen
Supreme Court Justice Myron T. Steele is Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's choice to be the next Delaware chief justice, an appointment that means vindication after a month-long ordeal in which his fitness for the state's top judiciary post came under attack.
Minner sent the nomination Monday to the state Senate, where it will be considered sometime after the General Assembly returns April 27 from a two-week spring break.
If confirmed, Steele would be the seventh chief justice, dating from the creation of the modern Supreme Court in 1951. He would succeed retiring Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey for a 12-year term, which would make him not only the ranking judge on Delaware's highest court but also the leader of the state's 54-member judiciary.
In a statement announcing the appointment, Minner said, "Justice Steele's work is well respected by the legal community nationwide, especially the corporate legal community that means so much to Delaware. I look forward to Justice Steele serving Delaware with great distinction as chief justice."
With a Senate vote still to go, Steele reacted in low-key fashion to his nomination. "I'm obviously pleased that the governor selected me. I look forward to the confirmation hearing and hope that I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed," he said.
While the selection process for judges is confidential, it was an open secret that Steele was the front-runner on a list of three candidates submitted to Minner by her Judicial Nominating Commission, which screens judicial applicants. The others under consideration were said to be Randy J. Holland and Carolyn Berger, fellow justices on the five-member Supreme Court.
Steele, 58, a Kent County Democrat like Minner, was the only candidate to serve on all three of the state's major courts, with his 16-year judicial career taking him to the Superior Court, Court of Chancery and Supreme Court.
To get the nomination, Steele had to weather both a political-like campaign from a strong showing in the bench and bar to promote Holland and an ethics complaint arising from his participation in an incendiary rent-cap case involving hundreds of Sussex County mobile home tenants.
An ethics investigation determined that allegations of favoritism and impropriety were baseless. The findings were made public Friday, not only clearing Steele but also clearing the way for his appointment, although the tenants may try to bring their objections to the Senate.
State Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Democratic president pro tem who has an influential voice in judicial confirmations, said the votes should be there for Steele. Still, Adams did not hide his own preference for Holland, a fellow Sussex Countian, even if Adams is a Democrat and Holland is a Republican.
"I think he [Steele] will try to be a good chief justice," Adams said. "I think she [Minner] had some good people to choose from, particularly when you're talking about Randy."
Adams is not without ties to Steele, however, as became apparent last week. There was a a bench-and-bar dinner honoring Holland for his service with a national legal organization, coming amid the hoopla to try to get him the chief justice nomination, and Steele sent word he could not attend because of a prior commitment.
It seems that commitment was a Masons meeting at the Felton Fire Hall, attended by both Steele and Adams. "Eating chicken and dumplings and oysters," Adams said.