Ferris W. Wharton
Ferris W. Wharton ()

The Delaware General Assembly last week unanimously confirmed Ferris W. Wharton to the New Castle County Superior Court. Wharton was confirmed after a five-minute hearing where he was asked about his background, volleyball prowess and where he went to high school.

Wharton was confirmed 21-0 by the Senate, after a very friendly confirmation hearing. He will be sworn in later.

Gov. Jack Markell nominated Wharton last month to replace retired Superior Court Judge Charles H. Toliver IV. Wharton currently works for the New Castle County Public Defender’s Office, where he has spent the last six years. Previously, Wharton served for more than 20 years in the Attorney General’s Office prosecuting a wide variety of cases, including convictions for murder, drug crimes and sexual offenses. He also headed the state’s rape response, felony trial and drug units, rising to the position of chief deputy attorney general.

Wharton is perhaps best known as one of the prosecutors who secured a first-degree murder conviction of former attorney Thomas Capano in the killing of Anne Marie Fahey, a former aide to Gov. Tom Carper. A Republican, Wharton 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.

In fact, state Sen. Patti Blevins, D-Elsmere, commented on Wharton’s prominence at the start of last Wednesday’s confirmation hearing at the Legislative Hall in Dover.

“I think we’ve all known you for a long time,” she said to Wharton.

Wharton responded by detailing how his experience as both a prosecutor and public defender provided him with familiarity with the Superior Court and its procedures.

“I’ve been in the Superior Court for probably close to 30 years trying cases,” he said. “I’ve handled somewhere in the order of 250 jury trials, which I think is a lot. I’ve tried everything in the Superior Court from speeding cases to capital murders and I’ve had the opportunity to appear before every judge who has been on the court in that period of time.”

Wharton added that he learned a lot by interacting with the Superior Court judges who oversaw his cases.

“Watching those judges has shaped a good deal of what I think a judge ought to be,” he continued. “I think that includes, obviously, being learned in the law, having integrity, having the right judicial temperament, having the right experience and a significant degree of humility. You have to realize that you are not the incarnation of perfection, you are simply a human trying to do a good job.”

Blevins called Wharton “extremely well prepared to take on this responsibility,” and asked how the diversity of prosecuting and defending criminals prepared him for the bench.

“From [the prosecution] standpoint, you are victim-oriented and you see what victims of a crime go through as they go through the system,” Wharton responded. “As a prosecutor you know that person through one act, the criminality they are doing. From the other side, you learn that’s not what they are all about. They committed a crime, but they don’t commit crimes 24 hours a day. There is a person there, too. Having the experience of talking to people who commit crimes and interacting with them on a personal level, it gives you a whole different perspective.”

Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, inserted levity into the proceeding with his only question.
”There is an 800-pound gorilla in the room,” he said. “I have some serious concerns that this elevation to the bench may preclude you from playing volleyball for the Republicans when we do the annual Republican-Democratic volleyball game. So I’ve asked him to research this before coming here today. You have cleared this, right?”

“I’ll get a special dispensation as soon as I can find a Republican on the Supreme Court to give me one,” Wharton cracked back.

Lavelle then turned serious for a moment, complimenting Wharton on his expected confirmation.
”You come with a tremendous amount of experience and you are a good person,” Lavelle said. “I wish you well and congratulate you wholeheartedly.”

Prior to concluding the proceedings, Blevins noted that she and Wharton both graduated from the same high school, Mount Pleasant in Wilmington. Wharton noted that, if confirmed, he will be the second Mount Pleasant alumnus serving on the bench in Delaware. U.S. Bankruptcy Chief Judge Kevin Gross of the District of Delaware is also a graduate.

Jeff Mordock can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or jmordock@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffMordockTLI.