Posted: June 4, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

A strong presence of the Delaware judiciary Wednesday in Legislative Hall seemed like a good clue that the judges were anticipating that two of their own would be elevated that day to front-line judgeships.

Not that any stumbling blocks had been expected. None were, and there weren't.

In a rapid show of assembly-line judge making, Jack B. Jacobs entered the building in Dover as a Court of Chancery vice chancellor and left as a Supreme Court justice, and Chandlee Johnson Kuhn came in as a Family Court judge and emerged as the chief judge there.

From the start of friendly confirmation hearings to oaths of office, it only took about two hours and 15 minutes. Both nominations were approved by the state Senate without dissent, 19-0 with two absent.

Almost as soon as the roll calls were tallied, Jacobs and Kuhn displayed some of the good judgment they will need in their new roles. With friends, family and colleagues in tow, they assembled in Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's office to take their oaths as quickly as possible.

The quirky state Senate has been known to find ways to reverse a vote, but there is no taking back an oath. Jacobs and Kuhn were good to go for 12-year terms.

The whole process actually could have gone a shade more quickly, but there was a pause until a Bible could be located for the swearing-in. This was no time for separation between church and state.

There is little more that is joyous in state government than the confirmation of a judge. Jacobs and Kuhn were engulfed in handshakes and hugs and recognized with standing ovations. Colleagues on hand to congratulate them included Supreme Court Justices Randy J. Holland and Myron T. Steele and at least seven Family Court judges.

"It's a very good day when you get not just your hearings, but the vote on the very same day," Minner said. She could have added that it is also a very good day when the governor gets her nominees confirmed without any opposition.

Jacobs plans to have a more formal swearing-in ceremony on July 2, but Kuhn said she hasn't decided whether she wants to repeat her oath-taking in a more public setting.

Jacobs, 60, of Wilmington, became only the 20th judge to serve on the modern Delaware Supreme Court, which was formed in 1951. He replaced Justice Joseph T. Walsh, who stepped down after more than 30 years in the state judiciary.

Jacobs' elevation to the state's highest court is the latest in a long line of examples of how diligently all three branches of government here nurture the state's reputation as the forum of choice of business law, with all the prestige, revenue and economic benefits that it brings.

Jacobs is the third Supreme Court member, along with Justices Carolyn Berger and Steele, to sit previously on Chancery, the trial court for business law. Holland and Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey were corporate law practitioners before joining the court.

Jacobs' move is not only a reflection that Chancery is the most favored route upwards but signals that the two courts will continue their tandem attention to business law.

Jacobs is a Democrat. His arrival maintains the political balance required by the state constitution on the court, which will continue to have three Democrats in Berger, Steele and Jacobs and two Republicans in Veasey and Holland.

Kuhn 41, of Wilmington, became the fourth chief judge of the modern Family Court, which was created in 1971. She replaced Chief Judge Vincent J. Poppiti, who spent 24 years in the state court system before leaving for private practice. She will lead a court of 15 judges.

Depending on the reckoning, Kuhn could be regarded as the first woman to be named a presiding judge on a state court. Chief Magistrate Patricia W. Griffin heads the Justice of the Peace Courts, but Kuhn is the first to take over a state court with judges who have law degrees.

Also, Chief Judge Sue L. Robinson has the top judgeship on the U.S. District Court for Delaware, but Kuhn is the first to break through on the state side.

"She's representing an important new crack in the glass ceiling," said Senate Majority Leader Harris B. McDowell III, a Wilmington Democrat.

Kuhn is a Republican. Her confirmation leaves the Family Court split politically with seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one vacancy.

Now that Jacobs and Kuhn are installed, Minner must find replacements for them, but that is for another day.