Posted: Aug. 28, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

When a governor fills a judicial vacancy with a sitting judge, it is known as a "two-fer." This is because it lets the governor generate a derivative appointment, creating the opportunity to name yet another judge in a two-for-one deal out of the original opening.

Because of a couple of "two-fers" set up in June, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner is on the verge of nominating a new vice chancellor for the Court of Chancery and a new judge for the Family Court. In addition, she also must appoint someone to the Superior Court because of the recent death of Judge Haile L. Alford.

The lists of candidates for Chancery and Family Court have been forwarded to the governor from the Judicial Nominating Commission, the panel responsible for screening and recommending applicants. The deadline for applications for the Superior Court judgeship was today at noon.

Minner has called for a special session of the state Senate on Sept. 24 to consider her nominations. All of the new judges will receive full 12-year terms, even though they are replacing judges whose terms were unexpired, and their salaries will be $140,200 a year.

While the nominating process is confidential, there is too much interest among the bench and bar for word not to spread, and it has.

There are said to be two lawyers in the running for vice chancellor, regarded as one of the premier judgeships in the state. They are Professor Lawrence A. Hamermesh, an academic authority on the Chancery Court from the Widener University School of Law, and Donald F. Parsons Jr., a Delaware State Bar Association past president who practices law at Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell in Wilmington.

The nominee would replace Justice Jack B. Jacobs, whom Minner elevated from vice chancellor to the Supreme Court in one of her "two-fers," to join a five-member court that brings international recognition to Delaware as a forum for corporate law.

There are said to be four candidates on the list for the Family Court: Alan N. Cooper, a Wilmington attorney with a family law practice at Berkowitz Schagrin Cooper & Dryden; Arlene Minus Coppadge, a Court of Common Pleas commissioner; Mary Susan Much, a lawyer in the Office of Disciplinary Counsel; and Loretta M. Young, a Family Court commissioner.

The Family Court vacancy opened when Minner promoted Chandlee Johnson Kuhn from judge to chief judge, replacing Vincent J. Poppiti, who retired to join a law firm. The 15-member court hears both civil and criminal cases in domestic law, including divorces and juvenile crime.

The Superior Court candidacies have not sorted themselves out yet, but it would not surprise anyone if the list sent to the governor resembled the one she received when she selected Calvin L. Scott Jr. for the bench in January.

Finalists on that roster included Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mary M. Johnston and Chief Deputy Attorney General Ferris W. Wharton, who already is set to change jobs. He is leaving the state Justice Department at the end of the month for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

The Superior Court has 19 judges who hear both civil and criminal cases.

Although the governor is a Democrat and the state Senate is controlled by Democrats, the Delaware judiciary must be balanced politically by law. Democratic slots are being filled on the Chancery Court and the Family Court, and a Republican one on the Superior Court.

For Minner, these judgeships would bring to 11 the number of appointments or reappointments she has made to the state's 54-member judiciary since taking office in 2001.

There is something of a constitutional end-run occurring with the Chancery vacancy. Under the state constitution, the governor is required to submit a nomination to the state Senate within 60 days of a vacancy on that court. Jacobs departed on June 4, so the deadline has come and gone.

Matthew P. Denn, the governor's legal counsel, said scheduling problems for both the Judicial Nominating Commission and the state Senate made the deadline nearly impossible to meet, so Minner administration officials took another look at the constitution.

"We concluded that the constitution did not provide any consequence for appointing the replacement beyond the 60 days," Denn said. So they are.