For Gregory M. Sleet, becoming chief judge of Delaware’s federal court is the latest in a career full of milestones.
Sleet was Delaware’s first black U.S. attorney and the first black appointed to the federal bench in the state. On July 1, the 56-year-old jurist will begin a seven-year term as the first black chief judge in the history of Delaware’s federal court.
Breaking barriers is a family tradition of sorts: Sleet’s father, Moneta Sleet Jr., was the first black to win a Pulitzer Prize for photography.
Sleet told a Tuesday meeting of about 130 members of the Federal Bar Association of Delaware that after almost nine years on the bench, he finally knows “how to wear the robe.”
Sleet will succeed Chief Judge Sue L. Robinson, the first woman to hold that position.
Charles Brittingham, president of the Delaware NAACP, said there is still one significant barrier to be crossed in the state’s judicial system the Delaware Supreme Court.
“I think it is a significant event in this part of the country,” Brittingham said. “I think he’ll do a good job.”
Sleet will join eight other sitting black federal chief judges, according to a federal database.
“There is not enough diversity on the bench, but it is great to see things moving in the right direction,” said Drewry Fennell, executive director for the Delaware American Civil Liberties Union.
Sleet graduated from Rutgers University School of Law in 1976. He worked as a public defender in Philadelphia and a state prosecutor in Delaware before becoming U.S. Attorney. He was appointed to the federal bench in 1998 by President Bill Clinton.
As chief judge, Sleet will represent the Delaware district at judicial policy-making bodies in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and will oversee the general business and operation of the Delaware court.
The position of chief judge is typically assigned to the judge in the district with the most seniority who is under age 64. In Delaware, that is District Judge Joseph J. Farnan Jr., 62, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985.
But Farnan stepped aside from the post in 2000 to allow Robinson to take over. Sleet noted that if Farnan hadn’t stepped aside, he “would have been too old” to become a candidate to succeed Robinson. He said he thanked Farnan for his gesture.
“He knew it would mean something to our district and our community,” Sleet said.
Information from: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal,
– Associated Press
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