NCCo Common Pleas Court Judge Resigns in Wake of Abuse Allegations

Elizabeth Bennett
Delaware Law Weekly

Judge William C. Bradley of the Court of Common Pleas has resigned from the bench following two civil suits alleging that he sexually abused two young boys in the 1970s.

Court of Common Pleas Administrator Carole B. Kirshner confirmed that Bradley, 71, submitted a letter Jan. 15 stating that he would retire effective at the end of the day. The court had no further comment.
On Jan. 21, less than a week after Bradley submitted the letter informing the court of his retirement, attorneys for the plaintiffs announced that both civil suits had settled.

One action was brought by Gregory Kelly in U.S District Court for the District of Delaware. The second was brought by a “John Doe” plaintiff in Delaware Superior Court.

Both suits were brought under the Delaware Child Victim’s Act, Delaware Code Title 10 Section 9145, which provided a two-year period during which victims of sexual abuse whose claims were previously barred by the two-year statute of limitations could file suit, court documents showed. The two-year window commenced in July 2007 and closed July 10, 2009.

Bradley first joined the court in 1976. He sat on the bench in New Castle County and his third term was not due to expire until 2014.

The complaint in the Kelly suit, filed in April 2009, alleged that when the plaintiff was 11 years old, he was the victim of sexual abuse at the hands of Bradley, who was a close friend of the Kelly family. Two incidents of abuse allegedly occurred on Dec. 28 and 29, 1975, before Bradley joined the bench.

In his answer filed in May 2009, Bradley denied the allegations of sexual abuse.

Brian D. Kent of Laffey Bucci & Kent in Philadelphia, said the resolution of the Kelly suit involved a cash settlement as well as “an admission from Judge Bradley as to the occurrence of the abuse and an apology from Judge Bradley.”

The settlement also releases all past, present and future claims against Bradley arising out of Kelly’s allegations.

“The only thing that needs to happen is we need to file a stipulation of dismissal with the court,” Kent said. “We have come to an agreement with regards to both cases and the settlement agreement is in place.”

Kent said that, as a condition of settlement, Bradley signed an admission in which he stated he had molested Kelly “through inappropriate sexual contact,” in 1975.

“I deeply regret any harm I have caused to Gregory Kelly and his family,” said the admission, a copy of which was released to the media by Kent. The document carried what is apparently Bradley’s signature.

Kent said the admission has not been filed with the court.

Mason E. Turner Jr. of Prickett Jones & Elliott in Wilmington, counsel for Bradley, did not respond to attempts to contact him.

Kent was lead counsel in both the Kelly and Doe cases, joined by his partners Jeffrey F. Laffey and V. Paul Bucci II. Roger D. Landon and Philip T. Edwards of Murphy & Landon in Wilmington acted as co-counsel in both cases.

The settlement of the “John Doe” case in Superior Court contained no public terms. Trial had been scheduled for Jan. 31.

Back in September Bradley had filed a motion to dismiss the Kelly case, asserting that the federal court did not have jurisdiction because the Delaware Child Victim’s Act states that such claims should be filed in Superior Court.

In December 2009, Judge Legrome D. Davis of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied the motion. Davis is sitting on the Delaware district court by designation.

The order denying the motion stated that the federal court has jurisdiction under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which states that federal law trumps state law where the two are in conflict. The federal court’s jurisdiction was based on diversity, because the plaintiff is a citizen of Nevada and defendant is a citizen of Delaware. The federal court also had jurisdiction because the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000, the order said.

Kelly, who now lives in Las Vegas, informed the Delaware Attorney General’s Office about the abuse in 1997, the complaint said. An investigation was conducted but the complaint does not indicate anything happened beyond that. At the time, the two-year statute of limitations was in force.

Eventually, Kelly received a letter from Margaret Naylor, staff attorney with the Delaware Supreme Court who works with the Court on the Judiciary, the complaint said.

This court disciplines judges per the state constitution. It comprises the Supreme Court plus the heads of all other courts. The letter from Naylor said that the disciplinary court had no jurisdiction because Bradley was not a sitting judge at the time of the alleged sexual abuse.

More than 10 years later, Kelly brought his suit under the Child Victim’s Act.

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