GEORGETOWN, Del.- A Sussex County judge will lose his job, but not his state pension, for becoming too close to a young, female attorney.
Family Court Judge John Henriksen expressed "romantic feelings" for the unnamed attorney and continued to preside over cases involving her for more than a year, according to a ruling by the Court on the Judiciary.
The judge also offered the attorney legal advice on an issue that he was set to decide, adding in an email "for obvious reasons, keep these as your observations and not mine" and "as always keep this email confidential," according to court records.
The attorney "clearly rebuffed overtures," the records show. Both the attorney and the court's chief judge filed complaints against Henriksen, sparking an investigation.
The chief judge ordered Henriksen, whose annual salary is $172,227, to disqualify himself from cases involving the attorney in November, 2010, according to Family Court Administrator Guy Sapp. Henriksen was removed from the bench and assigned administrative duties in Kent County in October 2011, Sapp said.
"I believe he should've removed himself from cases he had with her," said Heather Iacona, who spent time in Henriksen's courtroom to settle family matters. She called Henriksen a fair judge but said the relationship raised concerns.
The female attorney worked for a private law firm; Sapp said he did not know her age.
A review by the judges found the relationship did not impact the outcome of any cases, court records show.
"I just think it's inappropriate because it involves people's lives," said Dawn Malone of Georgetown, who showed up at court Tuesday to testify as a witness in an unrelated case.
A panel of judges ordered Henriksen removed from his position on Nov. 2, one day after his term expires and Henriksen becomes eligible to receive a state pension.
The court ordered Henriksen to pay $10,000 of therapy costs for the attorney and most of her legal fees.
With Henriksen off the bench, the case had a ripple effect on the workflow of family courts across the state, Sapp said. The court's chief judge is spending two days a week in Georgetown to help manage cases, Sapp said. When the position becomes vacant, the governor would then nominate a new judge.
Henriksen could not be reached for comment Tuesday.