U.S. District Court Judges Colm F. Connolly and Maryellen Noreika both took the oath of office in private ceremonies this week, bringing Delaware’s four-member district court back to full strength for the first time in 18 months.
Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark welcomed the new judges in an announcement Friday that outlined the court’s plans to roll back some emergency measures put in place to deal with a surge in filings that had been weighing on the shorthanded court.
Stark said that Connolly, a Republican, and Noreika, a Democrat, would begin taking new cases Aug. 15.
“From that point forward, all four of the court’s active district judges will receive an approximately equal share of new cases, consistent with the case assignment practices that were in place when the court was last at full strength, on Feb. 3, 2017,” Stark said in the statement.
Stark said the court will be “phasing out” the regular assignment of cases to a roster of visiting judges that had been assisting with the significant uptick in patent filings in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands decision last May. Cases currently assigned to the visiting judges will either remain on their dockets or be reassigned to the Delaware judges, principally to Connolly and Noreika, Stark said.
Noreika and Connolly will also be taking on the majority of cases from the court’s vacant judgeship docket, which had been overseen by the court’s three magistrate judges after Judge Sue L. Robinson’s retirement from active service in July 2017.
Meanwhile, Judge Gregory M. Sleet, who has taken senior status, plans to officially step away on Sept. 28. Most of Sleet’s cases will be assigned to Connolly and Noreika around the time of Sleet’s retirement in late September, Stark said.
The case reassignments were expected to take “many weeks” to complete, according to the announcement.
The two vacancies set off a month’s long nomination process last year to fill out the court, which plays an outsize role in intellectual property, business law and bankruptcy. U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, both Democrats, led the charge from Washington, D.C., impaneling a committee and interviewing both Republicans and Democrats for the posts.
In November, President Donald Trump announced Connolly, a former U.S. attorney and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner, and Noreika, a seasoned patent litigator with Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell, as his nominees to join the court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared Connolly and Noreika in March, but the nominations languished before the Senate, as the administration prioritized the confirmation of appellate judges over nominees for district court, sources said. The full Senate confirmed Connolly and Noreika by voice vote Aug. 1, in a move that was met with surprise and relief by Delaware’s legal community.
Stark’s chambers said Connolly received his commission on Aug. 3 and was sworn in on Wednesday. Noreika, whose commission was signed Thursday, took the oath of office Friday, a spokeswoman said.
Public investiture ceremonies for the new judges will be held in the “coming months,” Stark said, though he did not provide further details on Friday.