Less than nine minutes and fewer than four questions isn’t enough to vet candidates for the Delaware judiciary, according to some legal observers. But that’s only the part that people see, government officials counter, saying there is a substantial and lengthy process that occurs before candidates reach the hearing.
Of the last nine judicial confirmations, only the hearings for Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. and Superior Court Judge Vivian Rapposelli exceeded 10 minutes, according to Delaware Law Weekly’s research. While Strine’s hearing lasted roughly 40 minutes, the General Assembly completed Rapposelli’s hearing only a few seconds past the 10-minute mark.
In fact, without Strine’s somewhat lengthy hearing, the average time for a judicial confirmation would shrink to six minutes. Superior Court Judge Paul Wallace’s hearing lasted roughly nine minutes; Court of Chancery Chancellor Andre Bouchard had a seven-minute, 53-second hearing; Superior Court Judge Ferris Wharton’s hearing was six minutes and 38 seconds; Superior Court Judge Andrea Rocanelli’s hearing was four minutes and 32 seconds; Superior Court Judge Eric Davis had a roughly five-minute hearing; Superior Court Judge Charles Butler had a four-minute, 15-second hearing; and Family Court Judge Paula Ryan’s hearing lasted two minutes and 43 seconds.
“That is unusual,” said Paula Franzese, a government ethics professor at Seton Hall University School of Law. “Typically, the confirmation hearings in most states tend to be far longer and give legislators the opportunity to ask questions of judges whose answers should become a matter of public record.”
Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, is a member of the General Assembly’s executive committee that conducts the confirmation hearings. He said the Judicial Nominating Commission and the governor’s office extensively vet each candidate before the hearing, eliminating the need for lengthy hearings or questions.
“Someone from the public may say, ‘Holy cow, that didn’t take long,’” Lavelle said. “Rest assured, there is an exhaustive and substantive process that occurs before the candidate gets to the floor that day.”
Former Delaware Supreme Court Justice Andrew G.T. Moore, now an administrative director at Gibbons P.C., said the truncated hearings are only a recent phenomenon. He said during his 1982 confirmation hearing he was asked about his finances, future political plans, judicial philosophy, views on the death penalty, and whether he viewed himself as a liberal or a conservative.
“They used to hold very serious hearings, at least that was my experience,” Moore said. “Now they seem to have become perfunctory and very serious issues that could be explored like potential conflicts with particular financial investments are not treated with the attention that they deserve.”
Read more in an upcoming edition of Delaware Law Weekly.