Posted: Jan. 3, 2003
A NEW JUDGE JUMP-STARTS THE NEW
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
With an overflow crowd attending the
swearing-in for U.S. District Judge Kent A. Jordan on Friday, the
court system became the first branch of government here to plunge
into the swirl of political ceremonies that customarily accompanies
the New Year, particularly one following an election.
Jordan's emotional oath-taking actually was a bonus
event for the season, the result of his confirmation coming late in
the 2002 congressional session, but it gave the judiciary a rare
chance to outshine the other governmental branches where there is a
tradition of ringing in the year.
The others won't be far behind.
The Congress takes its turn next week, when it
convenes under the great Capitol dome in Washington, an occasion for
two Delawareans to make history. Democrat Joseph R. Biden Jr. will
become the first Delawarean sworn in for a sixth term in the Senate,
and Republican Michael N. Castle similarly will be the first from the
state to serve six terms in the House of
After all of those federal festivities, the
state government will have its day in Dover. The new General
Assembly will begin its 2003-2004 term on Jan. 14, and before the
month is out, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner will take center stage for the
executive branch as the first-term Democrat delivers the annual
State of the State address.
The pomp that precedes the general drudgery of
governmental workings began in high style with the robing of Kent
Jordan, who joined the Wilmington-based federal court where he once
clerked and where he appeared both as an assistant U.S. attorney and
a lawyer in private practice.
"We are very pleased to welcome him home,"
said Chief Judge Sue L. Robinson.
More than 300 people were invited to the
ceremony, which took place on a rainy afternoon in the federal
courthouse in Wilmington before a host of federal and state judges,
lawyers, family and other well-wishers.
It was a typical example of Delaware's
political cross-pollination. Jordan, a Republican appointee of
President George W. Bush, chose speakers from both parties, asking
Castle as well as Democratic Sen. Thomas R. Carper.
Jordan, 45, of Hockessin, joined the
four-judge court as a replacement for Roderick R. McKelvie, who left
last year for a patent law practice in Washington after spending 10
years on the bench building a national reputation in intellectual
property matters. McKelvie was on hand for the ceremony.
Like the other three judges on the court,
Jordan is a former federal prosecutor. Judges Joseph J. Farnan Jr.
and Gregory M. Sleet were U.S. attorneys, and Robinson and Jordan
were assistant U.S. attorneys. All of the judges have lifetime
appointments, currently at a salary of $150,000 a year. Of the four,
Sleet is the only Democratic appointee.
There is little in public life that is more
joyful than a judicial investiture, which usually represents not
only the pinnacle of a legal career but the fulfillment of a
longtime dream. Jordan's was an emotional outpouring.
While some new judges become teary or perhaps
choke up, Jordan had himself a full-blown cry, tissue and all,
although somehow he managed to do it decorously. It appeared to
reach its height as he talked about his tutelage under James L.
Latchum, the now-retired judge for whom Jordan clerked in the
mid-1980s. Latchum was unable to attend the ceremony, although his
Jordan said his mentor taught him to
administer justice impartially and to treat everyone equally.
Latchum also instilled in his clerk an urgent sense of mission
because of his constant question, "Got that done yet?" Jordan
revealed he has kept Latchum's picture in his office ever since,
perched where it could look over his shoulder and keep him on task.
Jordan made a promise -- to remember what it
was like to be a prosecutor, to represent criminal defendants, to
advocate for clients in private practice and to be a member of an
in-house legal team, all positions he held in a varied legal career.
Among the speakers, Carper and Castle both
envied Jordan his lifetime tenure. Castle noted the "distinguished"
judges presiding and quipped, "I call them 'distinguished' because
of the insecurity of my job. I'm a lawyer, and I may have to go back
Another participant was Brett M. Kavanaugh,
the White House associate counsel. His presence symbolized how
notoriously quirky judicial nominations can be -- with Jordan's
route to the bench being more circuitous than most. It had its
genesis in the 2000 election, which left Delaware without a senator
from the president's party.
Presidents customarily rely on senators who
share their political affiliation to recommend nominees for the
federal bench. In this case, Bush not only turned to Castle, a
congressman, but took the unconventional step of asking him to
forward three names. Castle did, naming Wilmington lawyer Karen L.
Valihura as his top choice.
Instead, the White House chose Jordan. It
seems there was this fellow Kavanaugh there, and he once was a law
clerk for the federal court in Wilmington, and an assistant U.S.
attorney named Kent Jordan was nice to law clerks and included them
in the weekly pickup basketball games. Not that Jordan got to be a
judge on the strength of a passing association, but it never hurts
to see a friendly face when the stakes are high.
Naturally there were waves of praise for
Jordan and the occasional funny story, too. Assistant U.S. Attorney
Patricia C. Hannigan, not only a former colleague but the president
of the Delaware State Bar Association, told a tale at Jordan's
Hannigan and Jordan were representing the
government in a land condemnation case that Hannigan called
"history's most boring jury trial." Judge Latchum was presiding.
At one point Jordan startled everyone by
leaping to object. Latchum responded, "Who cares? We all have glass
eyeballs from listening to the bunch of you." The objection was
As for Jordan himself, in addition to being
misty, he was humorous. With speaker after speaker lauding his fine
qualities, he quipped, "I should very much like to get to know
RETURN TO ARCHIVES
RETURN TO COVER PAGE