Delaware Court of Chancery Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr. has not even been confirmed to be the next state Supreme Court chief justice, but speculation has already started on who will succeed him as the head of the nation’s preeminent business court. The search for a new chancellor won’t begin for weeks or possibly even months, but legal analysts see four candidates as likely to seek the position.
Andre G. Bouchard, a partner with Bouchard Margules & Friedlander and current chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission, is viewed as a front-runner to replace Strine. Others who have been mentioned as possible candidates include Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden, Chancery Court Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster and Joseph R. Slights III, a former Superior Court judge and current Morris James partner.
Current Vice Chancellors Donald F. Parsons Jr., John W. Noble and Sam Glasscock III are said to be uninterested in the position that has not formally opened. The last time there was an opening on the Chancery Court, created by Strine’s ascension to chancellor, there were seven applicants. None of those applicants—Glasscock, Mary Johnston of the Superior Court, Richard E. Berl Jr. of Smith Feinberg McCartney & Berl, Kevin Brady of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, Richard Forsten of Saul Ewing, Joel Friedlander of Bouchard Margules and Bruce Silverstein of Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor—are said to be candidates this time around.
Bouchard, a Democrat, is viewed as a front-runner because of his good reputation among the corporate law community and his political affiliation. Currently, the Chancery Court is composed of three Democrats and two Republicans. However, Strine’s departure would create an even split on the court, enabling Gov. Jack Markell to appoint someone from either party under Delaware’s political balance rules.
Bouchard, a Harvard Law School graduate, has litigated multiple corporate cases in state and federal courts over the past 25 years. Most recently, he represented various media outlets seeking to unseal documents in the Chancery Court dispute betweenAl-Jazeera America LLC and AT&T Services. He was described by one Delaware legal analyst as “very bright and hardworking.”
If he decides to apply to become the next chancellor, he would have to recuse himself as head of the JNC. It could also raise some concerns that the JNC chairman is seeking an opening that was created by the group’s selection. One past JNC chairman, current Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland, stepped down to apply for an opening on the high court in 1986. However, Holland did not apply for a position that was created by a previous JNC selection.
Bouchard declined to comment on a possible application to become chancellor.
Jurden was viewed as perhaps the favorite to become the next state Supreme Court chief justice if the position was not to be awarded to Strine. She is an attractive candidate because of her vitality and the active role she has taken on the Superior Court to help establish some of Delaware’s specialty courts. She presides over the New Castle County Veterans Court, has managed the Superior Court’s Mental Health Court since its inception in 2008, is a member of the court’s complex commercial litigation division and oversaw the court’s conflict attorney program from 2006 until 2008.
When she was a candidate for the chief justice opening last fall, she was described as having a “tremendous work ethic” and “vigorous.”
Another factor in her favor is that Markell could face some pressure to nominate a woman to the Chancery Court. Since the court’s formation in 1792, only one woman has served as either a chancellor or vice chancellor: current Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger. However, the opportunity to appoint a woman to the Chancery Court may present itself to Markell in 2016 when Parsons’ term is up. It is not known if Parsons plans to seek reappointment.
The concern with Jurden, who declined to comment on her plans, is whether she is as well-known among the corporate law board as other possible candidates such as Bouchard and Laster.
“Markell is going to need someone in that position who has instant credibility with the corporate law community,” a Delaware attorney said. “Bouchard and Laster are already recognized as corporate law experts.”
Laster has served on the court since 2009 and has a solid reputation among the corporate law community, but is a Republican. Many court watchers believe that Markell, who is a Democrat, will not pick someone from the opposite party.
Markell selected Laster to fill the Chancery Court vacancy left by fellow Republican Stephen P. Lamb. Laster, formerly with Richards, Layton & Finger, started a corporate law business boutique with Kevin G. Abrams in 2005.
The vice chancellor did not comment on whether he would apply.
Slights served a 12-year term on the Superior Court before joining Morris James last year. During his time on the court, he served as a presiding judge in the court’s complex commercial litigation division. He now handles commercial and corporate litigation for Morris James and chairs the firm’s alternative resolution practice group, and acts as mediator or arbitrator upon agreement of the parties or appointment of the court, and as special master upon appointment of the court.
Slights did not return calls seeking comment. ???