Posted: May 16, 2003


By Celia Cohen

Grapevine Political Writer

Gov. Ruth Ann Minner is ticketing a pair of judges for promotions to two of the top posts in the Delaware judiciary, nominating Vice Chancellor Jack B. Jacobs to be a Supreme Court justice and Family Court Judge Chandlee Johnson Kuhn to become the chief judge there.

Jacobs would replace Justice Joseph T. Walsh, who retired, on the state's highest court. Kuhn would take over the Family Court leadership from former Chief Judge Vincent J. Poppiti, who left to practice law again after 24 years on the bench.

Minner's choices, announced Friday, must be confirmed by the state Senate, but their approval appears to be a foregone conclusion after the General Assembly returns on June 3 from a two-week break.

"I think they will do very well," said Senate President Pro Tem Thurman G. Adams Jr., a Democrat who also doubles as the chairman of the Executive Committee with jurisdiction over gubernatorial appointments.

With Jacobs' nomination, Minner reinforced the symbiosis between the Supreme Court and the Court of Chancery that has kept Delaware an internationally-recognized forum of choice for corporate law since the early years of the 20th Century.

Jacobs would join Justices Carolyn Berger and Myron T. Steele as vice chancellors who made the jump to the Supreme Court. Its other members, Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey and Justice Randy J. Holland, came from two of Delaware's leading corporate law firms, Veasey from Richards Layton & Finger and Holland from Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell.

"He [Jacobs] will help the Supreme Court to retain its reputation as the pre-eminent Supreme Court in the nation with respect to corporate matters and will exercise his proven good judgment in the variety of other civil and criminal matters that come before the court," Minner said in a statement announcing the judicial appointments.

With Jacobs on board, the court would maintain its current political alignment of three Democrats and two Republicans. Jacobs is a Democrat, as are Berger and Steele, while Veasey and Holland are Republicans. Under the state constitution, the court must be as politically balanced as possible.

For Jacobs, the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court represents a dream come true. As a young lawyer, Jacobs clerked for the late William Duffy and saw him rise through the judicial ranks to chancellor and Supreme Court justice, and it became a goal of his own.

"He became almost a role model, and in the back of my mind, I thought I'd be delighted to do what he did," Jacobs said. "To be able to come close to what Justice Duffy did would be a great honor. I just wish he were here."

Jacobs, 60, of Wilmington, has been a vice chancellor since 1985. Previously he was a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor in Wilmington. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Harvard Law School.

For Kuhn, 41, of Wilmington, her confirmation would put her in charge of a court that is practically her second home.

A judge there since 1998, she was 22 when she got her first job on the court as a bailiff and later a staff development instructor. A law degree in 1988 from Delaware Law School -- in the last class before the name was changed to Widener University law school -- got her a job at the Wilmington firm of Prickett Jones & Elliott, practicing corporate litigation and domestic relations, before she received her judgeship.

Kuhn also had a stint as a law clerk for Justice Walsh. "It's fitting timing," she said.

Minner cited Kuhn's experience on the court as a prime reason for the appointment. "I think it is important that the chief judge of the Family Court be a person with a thorough understanding of that court's docket, procedures and personnel, and Judge Kuhn is keenly aware of all of these different facets," the governor said.

Kuhn is a Republican, and her elevation would leave the 15-judge court split evenly with seven Republicans, seven Democrats and one vacancy. Poppiti had a Democratic seat.

While Minner is a Democrat notable for a decided preference for her own party, her appointment of Kuhn would mean four of the state's six courts have presiding judges who are Republican -- the Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery, the Superior Court and the Family Court. Only the Court of Common Pleas would have a Democratic chief judge and the Justice of the Peace Courts a Democratic chief magistrate.

That arrangement should do nothing but increase the speculation that Minner intends to make a chief justice out of Steele, a Democrat, when Veasey's term ends next year.

Besides, Kuhn may be a Republican, but she comes with an unbeatable Democratic connection. When her father-in-law was a student at the University of Delaware, his roommate was none other than Thurman Adams.