Markell nominates chief prosecutor to serve as judge

If confirmed, Paula Ryan would replace John Henriksen in Family Court
Sussex County Chief Prosecutor Paula Ryan, left, stands outside the Superior Courthouse in Georgetown with Attorney General Beau Biden, right, after the sentencing of Earl Bradley in August 2011. BY NICK ROTH
November 20, 2012

Sussex County Family Court Judge John Henriksen was removed from his job after it was found he made advances toward a young female attorney.  Gov. Jack Markell on  Nov. 19, nominated Deputy Attorney General Paula Ryan to fill the Family Court vacancy.

Ryan, Sussex County’s chief prosecutor, has successfully represented victims in a number of high profile cases, including the case against Lewes pedophile pediatrician Earl Bradley, who was convicted of 24 counts of rape, assault and sexual exploitation involving 86 children.  She also prosecuted Derrick Powell, convicted for fatally shooting Georgetown Patrolman Chad Spicer.

Both Bradley and Powell were found guilty and received the highest level of punishment available for their crimes – 14 life sentences with no parole for Bradley and a death sentence for Powell.

“Paula Ryan is an outstanding lawyer who has distinguished herself in difficult cases, including some of the most troubling trials in our state’s history,” Markell said in a press release.  “Her commitment to serving her community is unparalleled, and she will be a strong addition to our Family Court if confirmed.”

Ryan moved to Sussex County in 1995 to serve as a law clerk for Delaware Supreme Court Justice Randy Holland.  After her clerkship, Ryan joined the Delaware Department of Justice, where she handled cases in Family Court, Court of Common Pleas and Superior Court.  She was appointed chief prosecutor for Sussex County in 2007.

“Being nominated to the Family Court is an honor,” Ryan said.  “My career as a prosecutor has been devoted to protecting the vulnerable, and I really see service on the Family Court as an opportunity to continue and extend that.”

Delaware Court on the Judiciary issued an order to remove Henriksen from his post in May.  The removal was made effective Nov. 2 – one day after Henriksen’s term of office expired and his 12-year pension vested.  Henriksen will receive $85,000 a year in pension.

A female attorney, whose name remains confidential, filed complaints with the Judiciary accusing Henriksen of trying to establish an inappropriate social relationship with her.

A board of examining officers found Henriksen had expressed romantic feelings towards the attorney but continued to preside over cases in which she was involved.

The board concluded Henriksen had violated enough rules in the code of conduct to constitute willful misconduct, not merely an error in judgment.

Henriksen was also ordered to pay $10,000 in therapy bills incurred by the attorney and 75 percent of her legal fees.

The order was made public, but all other records involving the case, including transcripts from hearings and board meetings, remain confidential.

If confirmed, Ryan would be one of three judges at Sussex County Family Courthouse.   According to a press release from Markell’s office, Ryan’s nomination is expected to be considered at a special session of the state Senate that has not yet been scheduled.  The General Assembly will begin its 147th session Tuesday, Jan. 8.

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