Candidates interested in the Delaware Court of Chancery’s vacant chancellor seat must have their applications submitted to the Judicial Nominating Commission by noon today. The JNC sent out a call for applications two weeks ago, officially greenlighting a process that has generated much speculation since last year when Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr. announced his intention to pursue the chief justice vacancy.
The notice was emailed to state attorneys through the Delaware State Bar Association’s listserv and posted on the Administrative Office of the Delaware Courts’ website. The AOC’s website also includes a link to the 12-page questionnaire applicants are required to submit as part of the application process.
All interested parties must submit their applications to JNC Chairman William B. Chandler III of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati no later than noon today. The JNC also requested that individuals who want to nominate a candidate write to the commission.
A candidate can be a member of either the Democratic or Republican Party because this time Gov. Jack Markell is not bound by the state’s constitutional requirement for overall political balance on the courts. Strine’s departure will leave the Chancery Court with two Democrats and two Republicans. Vice Chancellors John W. Noble and Donald F. Parsons Jr. are both Democrats, while Vice Chancellors J. Travis Laster and Sam Glasscock III are both Republicans.
All candidates for the $191,360-per-year position must be residents of Delaware, according to the application request. There is no county requirement for the position.
Once the application deadline passes, members of the JNC receive each applicant’s materials and reference checks are divided up among the commission’s 11 members, according to sources familiar with the process.
Typically, all candidates who apply are said to get an interview before the JNC. Applicants will receive one interview attended by all or a majority of the JNC members. The commission is said to schedule all interviews on the same day, but in the past it has scheduled interviews on multiple days when a large number of candidates have applied for a position.
The Delaware State Bar Association has a representative on the JNC who weighs in on each candidate’s qualifications, according to sources.
After the interviews are completed, the JNC convenes to send a list of three names to the governor, according to sources. If there is more than one position available or a plethora of candidates, more than three names can be sent to the governor. Once Markell receives the names, he will schedule his own round of interviews before selecting a candidate.
Markell’s chief legal counsel, Andrew Lippstone, last month told Delaware Law Weekly that the governor could select a candidate in late March or early April.
“I think it is fair to say that the governor intends to nominate a candidate after the Joint Finance Committee break, but before the General Assembly’s Easter break,” Lippstone said.
JFC budget hearings began in February and are scheduled to end March 18. Lawmakers are set to remain in session after the JFC meetings until it breaks
Andre G. Bouchard, managing partner with Bouchard Margules & Friedlander, is viewed as the front-runner for the position and some legal analysts have predicted that he could be the only applicant.
Others mentioned as possible candidates include Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden, Laster and Joseph R. Slights III, a former Superior Court judge and current Morris James partner.
Slights confirmed that he will not apply for the position and sources say that Jurden is also unlikely to submit an application. Jurden had applied for the chief justice opening that eventually went to Strine and was viewed as a strong candidate for the position. Many Delaware Supreme Court watchers say that Jurden’s candidacy for the next opening on that court would be overwhelmingly strong, as long as Markell is free to appoint a Democrat. Those same court watchers predict Jurden could be on the court before the end of this year or sometime in 2015.
Laster is viewed as a strong candidate for chancellor, but considered a long shot because he is a Republican. Markell, a Democrat, has never nominated a Republican when he has had the freedom to make a nomination from the ranks of either party.
If Laster opts not to apply, that means Bouchard could be the only applicant for the position, unless a dark-horse candidate steps forward. Legal analysts, however, could only name one possible dark horse: David C. McBride, a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor. McBride does have the corporate law experience necessary to serve as chancellor. His practice has focused on commercial litigation and corporate law, particularly in the area of mergers and acquisitions. In addition, McBride has been a member of the Chancery Court Rules Committee since 1994.
McBride declined to comment on whether he would apply for the position.
This article first appeared in Delaware Business Court Insider, a DLW sibling publication.