The bell tolls, and a community judges a fallen judge

May 11, 2012

Judge Jack Henriksen, a Lewes resident and Family Court judge for nearly 12 years, has been in hot water for the past several months during an ongoing judicial investigation into ethics violations.  That water boiled over this week.

A special state judicial court announced that Henriksen violated standards set for judges by inappropriate behavior involving a female attorney who appeared frequently in his courtroom. The investigation began when the attorney filed an official complaint about Henriksen. As a result, Henriksen will lose his appointment in November when it expires. Because the court is not removing Henriksen before the expiration of his term, he will be eligible for his $85,000 per year pension.  The court, in stating its action, noted that Henriksen – other than in this matter – has enjoyed “a distinguished career, first as a practicing lawyer and, for the past eleven years, as a Family Court judge.” The written order placed emphasis on “eleven years.” It also emphasized there was no evidence that Henriksen’s behavior impacted any decision in any case over which he presided.  The order further stated that Henriksen continued to pursue a relationship with the attorney “despite clearly rebuffed overtures.”

Jack isn’t the first person whose heart trumped his good judgment. He is paying dearly for the lapse, though some say not so dearly given the court’s decision to keep him in his job long enough to ensure he will receive his pension. Are the judges protecting one of their own? Should the penalty be more severe? Or is the disgraceful loss of the judgeship – one of the most honored positions in our society – penalty enough? That’s a question the community will debate and discuss for a long time. In my experience over the decades, Delaware’s judiciary has policed its own ranks with energy and a blind commitment to justice.  It has also been proactive when it comes to making the public aware of action it takes concerning attorney and judge misconduct.

I covered Jack’s investiture as a judge, in a Sussex County Superior Courtroom, back in 2000. Having known Jack over the years as a friend, Little League umpire, fellow hunter and fisherman, I wanted to be there. In the midst of all the pomp and circumstance involved in such events, Superior Court Judge William T. Quillen reminded the new judge of his humanity: “When you get home at night, the robe goes off when the front door opens.  The garbage will still be there and you will still be expected to take it out.”

At that same ceremony, Judge Henriksen addressed some of the attorneys present who he expected would come before him at some time or another in a Family Court matter. “Don’t allow your actions or your conduct to add fuel to the fire in Family Court,” he told them.

It’s our own words that are often the most bitter to swallow.

Gas line marching on
Chesapeake Energy continues to spread its natural gas line through Lewes.  Some of  Chesapeake’s first residential customers have hooked up along Kings Highway and Beebe Avenue following connections to Beebe Medical Center and SPI Pharma. The line headed west from Beebe this week along the Bethel Methodist Cemetery on Savannah Road toward the Lewes School, which may be its next connection.

Contractors are using directional drilling equipment to bury the line with a minimum amount of disruption. Lewes Mayor Jim Ford said the city receives a small franchise fee for allowing installation of the lines along city streets and sidewalks. Part of the agreement requires that Chesapeake also make the gas available to residential customers.