Two private attorneys and a state public defender are said to be among the likely applicants for Judge Charles H. Toliver IV’s vacant seat on the Delaware Superior Court, according to sources familiar with the process. However, with the application process ending Friday, it is still possible that a dark-horse candidate could emerge.
Delaware legal sources say Toliver’s successor could be one of three candidates: Richard A. Forsten, a partner at Saul Ewing; Ferris Wharton of the New Castle County Public Defender’s Office; and Nancy Chrissinger Cobb, an attorney at Chrissinger & Baumberger. All three declined to comment on their interest in the position.
Court of Common Pleas Judge Sheldon K. Rennie was mentioned as an early candidate for the opening, but he told Delaware Law Weekly in February that he will not apply for the opening.
Potential candidates for the opening must be Delaware residents and Republicans. Delaware’s judicial-balance requirement states that all outgoing members of the judiciary must be replaced by someone from the same party. There are no other requirements besides political registration and residency.
Parties interested in the $180,233-per-year position must submit resumes and questionnaires to Judicial Nominating Commission Chairman William B. Chandler III, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, by noon Friday.
Forsten and Wharton were two of the three finalists for the last Republican Superior Court vacancy, created by the retirement of Judge Jerome O. Herlihy. The position went to the third name on the list, Andrea L. Rocanelli, who was then with the Court of Common Pleas.
Rennie, an attorney at Fox Rothschild at the time of Herlihy’s departure, was also said to have applied for the open position. Gov. Jack Markell later appointed Rennie to replace Rocanelli on the Court of Common Pleas.
Thomas H. Kovach, a former state representative and former New Castle County Council president, also applied for Herlihy’s seat, but is not said to be a candidate for Toliver’s seat.
Forsten’s practice focuses on land use and commercial real estate, including transactional work and litigation. He has represented a variety of owners and developers in land-use matters throughout the state of Delaware, according to his biography on Saul Ewing’s website.
Wharton currently works for the New Castle County Public Defender’s Office and has experience prosecuting criminals at every trial and appellate level. He unsuccessfully ran for state attorney general in 2006, losing to Beau Biden. Prior to his campaign for attorney general, he served as assistant U.S. attorney for three years and also worked for Fox Rothschild.
Chrissinger Cobb has defended companies in insurance and workers’ compensation disputes. The companies that she has represented in the Superior Court include Sears, UPS, Raytheon Constructors and Liberty Mutual.
Toliver was appointed in 1998 and completed his second term April 3. He is staying on the court until May 2 to help with the transition to a new judge. He has not finalized his future plans.
“I’ve done 24 years and I’m 63 and I think it’s about that time,” Toliver told DLW in February. “There is no problem or issue, I just think that after 24 years and it’s about time. I’m ready to try something else or nothing at all.”
Prior to joining the bench, Toliver practiced with Biggs & Battaglia in Wilmington and also was chairman of the Wilmington Housing Authority.
Toliver is most likely known for sentencing James E. Cooke Jr. to death for the murder of University of Delaware student Lindsey M. Bonistall, but has presided over other important cases. In Ison v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., a 2002 decision, Toliver ruled that Delaware’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions could not be tolled for seven children born with birth defects because such injuries were neither inherently unknowable nor misdiagnosed.
The current Superior Court opening will be the latest in a series of judicial appointments that Markell has had to fill in recent months. Late last year, Markell appointed Court of Chancery Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr. to chief justice of the Supreme Court to fill the vacancy created by former Chief Justice Myron T. Steele’s departure. Markell nominated private litigator Andre G. Bouchard of Bouchard Margules & Friedlander to replace Strine. He will also have to appoint a replacement for current Supreme Court Justice Jack B. Jacobs, who is stepping down in July.