Chancellor Leo Strine
Chancellor Leo Strine ()

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has nominated Court of Chancery Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr. to be the next chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court. Strine has served on the Chancery Court since 1998 and has led the nation’s preeminent business court since 2011.

“Delaware’s judiciary is widely recognized as the finest in the nation. With his superior intellect, incredible work ethic, and substantial judicial experience, Leo Strine is well-positioned to build upon our courts’ deserved reputation for excellence if he is confirmed by the Senate,” Markell said in a released statement.

The Delaware General Assembly has not yet scheduled a confirmation hearing date for Strine, but it is expected to occur before the end of January. Strine faced no opposition during his July 2011 hearing to become chancellor and was unanimously approved. He is expected to also sail through the chief justice confirmation hearings, said sources familiar with the nomination.

If he is confirmed by the legislature, Strine will be Delaware’s eighth chief justice, succeeding Myron T. Steele, who stepped down in November. Steele, who served nine-and-a-half years in the position, has since joined Delaware law firm Potter Anderson & Corroon.

Markell selected Strine over three other candidates who applied in December for the position. The other applicants were Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger, Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden and Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr.

Strine was widely viewed as the favorite for the position because of his extensive corporate law background. In addition to authoring some of the nation’s top corporate law opinions, he has served as the special judicial consultant to the American Bar Association’s corporate laws committee. Strine was also a corporate litigator at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and became counsel to former Gov. Thomas R. Carper in January 1993.

“Strine heads the most important business court in the world,” said Thomas J. Reed, a professor at Widener University School of Law, after the chancellor had submitted his application. “He’s been there for a long time and the Delaware Supreme Court’s docket is driven by filings and decisions from the Chancery Court. He knows business law inside and out and that gives him a tremendous edge.”

During his roughly two-and-a-half-year tenure as chancellor, Strine generated controversy. In November 2012, he called a lawsuit between fashion designer Tory Burch and her ex-husband a “drunken WASP fest.” That same month, a per curiam Delaware Supreme Court rebuked the chancellor for expressing his view on whether managers and directors of limited liability companies have default fiduciary duties. The high court affirmed the chancellor’s opinion in Auriga Capital v. Gatz Properties but told him that if he wanted to “ruminate on what the proper direction of Delaware law should be,” he should do so in a law review article or speech. A second rebuke occurred last October in Winshall v. Viacom International, when the high court heavily criticized Strine in a footnote for favoring the federal plausibility standard for dismissing a complaint over Delaware’s conceivability standard.

“The trial court’s opinion was not the appropriate medium to reargue the issue,” said Justice Jack B. Jacobs, who authored the opinion.

In November, Reed told Legal sibling publication Delaware Law Weekly that the controversies will not impact Strine’s candidacy to lead the Delaware judiciary.

“The adverse publicity he got will not help him, but I don’t think it will hurt him,” he said. “It doesn’t affect his decision-making, which is what the governor should look at. His decisions are up to the mark. Yes, he has made some unfortunate comments, but they don’t indicate that he is unfit for anything.”

In a released statement, Strine said he will work to uphold Delaware’s judicial traditions.

“For over 21 years, I have committed my professional life to serving the people of Delaware,” he said. “If the Senate confirms me to this important position, I will do everything I can to repay the confidence they and the governor will have entrusted in me by working cooperatively with my colleagues to preserve Delaware’s tradition of judicial excellence and address the new challenges and opportunities to our state resulting from a rapidly globalizing economy.”

Strine was a law clerk to Judge Walter K. Stapleton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and U.S. District Chief Judge John F. Gerry of the District of New Jersey. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

With Strine’s confirmation ensured, speculation now turns to candidates to become the next chancellor of the Chancery Court. Preliminary speculation has centered on Andre G. Bouchard, a partner with Bouchard, Margules & Friedlander and current chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission; Chancery Court Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster; and Joseph R. Slights III, a former Superior Court Judge and current partner at Morris James.

Jeff Mordock can be contacted at 215-557-2485 or Follow him on Twitter @JeffMordockTLI.