William Chandler
William Chandler ()

Gov. Jack Markell has appointed former Delaware Court of Chancery Chancellor William B. Chandler III to lead the Judicial Nominating Commission, an 11-member task force responsible for recommending candidates to fill judicial vacancies. Chandler’s first order of business on the JNC will be to identify candidates for the Chancery Court chancellor opening created by current Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr.’s promotion to Supreme Court chief justice.

“Chancellor Chandler brings a wealth of experience and insight to his new role,” said Markell’s chief legal counsel, Andrew Lippstone. “The governor is pleased that the former chancellor has agreed to lead the commission and believes he is uniquely qualified to do so.”

Chandler, an attorney at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, said that Markell had approached him about the opening on the JNC.

“The governor called me and asked if I was interested in doing it,” Chandler told Delaware Law Weekly. “I was very flattered and very honored by the fact that he thought of me.”

Markell selected Chandler to replace former JNC chair and current Bouchard Margules & Friedlander managing partner Andre G. Bouchard, who resigned from the commission last month. Bouchard’s resignation has fueled speculation that he will pursue the chancellor vacancy.

“Andy did a wonderful job of leading the commission,” Chandler said. “In fact, there has been a long history of superlative JNC chairs. My hat is off to them and I hope I can live up to the standard the previous commission chairs set.”

In addition to Bouchard, other JNC chairs include current Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland, former Richards, Layton & Finger President Edmund N. Carpenter II, and F. Michael Parkowski, currently a partner at Parkowski, Guerke & Swayze.

Chandler said that the process for finding a new chancellor is expected to start immediately.

“The process for a new chancellor is going to start right away because there is a vacancy,” Chandler said. “The commission will convene promptly.”

Lippstone told DLW earlier this month that Markell will submit his nominee to the General Assembly in either 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 were scheduled to begin the first week of February and to end March 18. Lawmakers are set to remain in session after the JFC meetings until it breaks April 10.

Although the JNC is seeking to fill Chandler’s former job, he said that his perspective on the position will not have a greater influence than other members of the commission.

“I’ll bring a certain perspective into what might be an appropriate quality or characteristic so I will have insight into the office’s demands, but it won’t have any more weight or value than a practicing member of the bar or laypeople will have,” he said. “I think the great thing of the commission is the diversity of multiple perspectives. That is what makes it able to provide the governor with many good choices and that is what the commission is all about, providing a list to the governor of the best people he can choose.”

Bouchard declined to comment on the resignation, but another JNC member, former Lt. Gov. S.B. Woo, had publicly stated that Bouchard disclosed his interest in becoming chancellor to the commission’s other members when they were asked to reveal anything that could be viewed as an appearance of a conflict of interest during the chief justice selection process.

Woo resigned after his comments regarding Bouchard appeared in The News Journal. Markell appointed Lynne Howard to replace Woo. She is the chief executive officer of Lynne Howard Consulting LLC, a human resource and project management consultation business. In the past, Howard has served as the chief human resources officer for New Castle County, chief of staff for the Wilmington City Council and was an adviser on family issues to former Gov. Tom Carper.

“Lynne is an experienced professional who has served in leadership roles in both the public and private sector,” Lippstone said. “The governor believes she will be a valuable addition to the JNC.”

Michael P. Kelly, chairman of McCarter & English and a JNC member, praised the decision to appoint Chandler to lead the commission.

“I am sad to see Andy leave,” he told DLW. “But I applaud the governor for selecting Chancellor Chandler to succeed Andy as chair of the JNC. Like Andy, he is eminently qualified and as honest as the day is long.”

The commission will begin to vet chancellor candidates amid speculation that Bouchard will be the only applicant. Traditionally, the JNC is required to submit three candidates to the governor. Chandler said that the JNC cannot control who applies for the opening.

“If you only get one name, the best you can do for the governor is submit the name you get,” he said. “The hope and expectation is that you can give the governor more than one choice. The JNC’s goal is to try to elicit interest from many qualified and interested lawyers who are equipped to handle the judicial office in question, but the commission can’t produce names out of thin air. We will handle whatever comes our way.”

Two names who were said to be chancellor candidates early in the process were Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden and former Superior Court judge and current Morris James attorney Joseph R. Slights III. Sources say Jurden will not apply for the position and Slights confirmed that he will not pursue the opening.

Another name, Chancery Court Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster, is said to be interested and a strong candidate. However, he also is viewed as a long shot because he is a Republican. Markell is free to nominate a candidate from either party because the departure of Strine, a Democrat, leaves the court split among both parties. However, Markell, a Democrat, has never nominated a Republican when he has had the freedom to make a nomination from the ranks of either party. ???