Posted: Oct. 31, 2003
TRICK OR TREAT FOR JUSTICE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
When a lawyer becomes a judge, the
intimidation factor is known to go up. In the case of Mary M.
Johnston, it likely went down.
Johnston was robed Friday as a Superior Court
judge after working as the chief disciplinary counsel for the
Delaware Supreme Court, a post that is the legal equivalent of
internal affairs, striking fear in lawyers like the knock on the
door in the dark of the night.
Not only did Johnston shed her disciplinary
role, but the investiture at times resembled a roast, and even the
dignity of the judiciary took a knock or two.
It began when the bailiff, calling the
proceeding to order, mangled the names of the presiding judges.
Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey became "E. Henry Veasey," leading the
state's highest judicial officer to bemoan that he already was
experiencing what his wife warned him would occur when he retires
"You go from 'who's who' to 'who's he?' I
think I'm there already," Veasey quipped.
The mischief was chalked up to the day. "You
never know what will happen on Halloween," Veasey said.
The question was raised, why Halloween for
something as serious as a judicial installation? William D.
Johnston, the husband of the new judge, explained there was family
significance. It was Halloween 22 years ago that the two had their
first date, and he noted that then as now, Mary Johnston wore black,
although she accessorized then with a witch's hat instead of the
ceremonial red sash of a Superior Court judge.
"I think it was a good choice today," said
Bill Johnston also happens to be a past
president of the Delaware State Bar Association and a partner at
Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, one of the top law firms in
Wilmington. Clearly outranked now, he said, "Judge Johnston gave me
permission to refer to her as 'Mary' for the purpose of this
The public robing, which brought about 150
judges, lawyers, family and friends to the New Castle County
Courthouse in Wilmington, followed a private ceremony last month
when Mary Johnston took her judicial oath.
Johnston, 45, of Wilmington, replaces Judge
Haile L. Alford, who died in August, on the 19-member Superior
Court, which hears both criminal and civil cases. She will serve a
12-year term at a current salary of $140,200 a year.
Johnston was praised for refashioning the
Office of Disciplinary Counsel, emphasizing intervention over
punishment. Andrea L. Rocanelli, the acting chief disciplinary
counsel, credited the office's success under Johnston to its makeup
-- four lawyers with nine children among them.
"It was they who made the task of disciplining
lawyers easy by comparison," Rocanelli said.
The office under Johnston also was famous for
its love of food, and Rocanelli warned the judiciary what it was
getting with its new colleague. "Mary comes from a long and
illustrious line of utensil lickers," she said.
In a more serious moment, Johnston
memorialized Alford, and she promised to take to heart the
instruction from the Book of Micah -- "to do justice, and to love
mercy and to walk humbly."
As for utensil licking, there was no promise
RETURN TO ARCHIVES
RETURN TO COVER PAGE