Delaware Politics: Who Will Gov. Jack Markell Appoint as Chief Justice?
Getting a chief justice confirmed can be a Grinchy affair.
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There should never have been any doubt that Minner wanted Steele, not from the moment she took her oath as governor in 2001 and Steele, then a Supreme Court justice, was her escort afterward in the receiving line.
Still, there was a lot of sentiment in the bench and bar, as well as the General Assembly, for Randy Holland, a Republican justice who was a judicial scholar with an international reputation. Seven years later in 2011, Holland would be recognized as the best state judge in the country by the American Judicature Society.
Although Holland was as courtly and dignified as always, his advocates were not. They threw a gala tribute for him, and when Veasey had his retirement dinner, Holland was called upon to introduce him. Nothing subtle about it.
While Holland was being lionized, Steele found himself entangled in a strange ethics investigation, and it was easier to believe in fairies than to think it was a coincidence.
Steele was part of a Supreme Court panel that decided a sulfurous dispute between the ownership and tenants of a mobile home park. He instructed the ruling to be faxed to the lawyers. He assumed the fax had been sent by the time he mentioned the outcome in the course of a conversation with the winning lawyer, who represented the ownership, but it had not.
When the tenants found out the ownership knew about the ruling before it officially became public, they thought the fix was in. The uproar was fanned into a formal inquiry that lasted for eight tense days. Steele was cleared. Minner waited it out and then nominated him.
There was no cakewalk for Veasey, either, when he became the chief justice. It began with some behind-the-scenes grumbling that Castle was putting his own lawyer in charge, but then it moved on to something more perilous.
Castle was in his last year as the governor, and it seemed like all of Delaware was in on the political swap that would exchange Castle for Tom Carper, the Republican governor becoming the congressman and the Democratic congressman becoming the governor.
The state Senate was controlled by Carper’s fellow Democrats, and they sent a feeler suggesting they could stall Veasey’s nomination, if Carper wanted them to, so he could put in his own chief justice. Carper let it lie, and Veasey was confirmed.