Karen L. Valihura
Karen L. Valihura ()

Gov. Jack Markell has nominated private attorney Karen L. Valihura to replace outgoing Justice Jack B. Jacobs on the Delaware Supreme Court.

Valihura, a corporate attorney with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, beat out a crowded and diverse field of applicants and was one of four candidates the Judicial Nominating Commission submitted to Markell for consideration as the nominee. The candidates sent to the governor included Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr., Superior Court Judge Jan R. Jurden and Widener University School of Law professor Lawrence Hamermesh.

“Karen Valihura is an attorney of uncommon skill, intelligence, and integrity who has earned a well-deserved reputation for excellence in her 25 years in private practice,” Markell said in a released statement. “As important, she has a long track record of service to the community. If she is confirmed by the Senate, I believe Karen will serve our state well as a member of Delaware’s highest court.”

Valihura is a unique appointment for Markell because she is both a Republican and private-practice attorney. Since Markell was elected in 2012, he has had 16 judicial nominations, including Valihura. Of those nominations, only Delaware Court of Chancery Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard, Chancery Court Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster, Valihura, Superior Court Judge Eric Davis and Court of Common Pleas Judge Anne Hartnett Reigle worked in the private sector at the time of their nomination.

Sources had said early in the process that Markell was seeking to appoint a female. Only one female, current Justice Carolyn Berger, has ever served on the Supreme Court.

Markell was also said to favor Valihura’s corporate law background, especially since, if confirmed, she will replace Jacobs, who spent 18 years on the Chancery Court before going to the Supreme Court. Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr., a former Chancery Court chancellor, is viewed as one of the foremost authorities on Delaware corporate law. Valihura, combined with Strine and Berger, who spent a decade on the Chancery Court, would give three of the five Supreme Court justices extensive corporate law experience.

A confirmation hearing is scheduled to occur sometime during the last week in June.

Valihura, 51, has worked at Skadden since 1989. Her practice involves a wide range of complex corporate litigation involving issues such as mergers and acquisitions, fiduciary duties of directors and federal and state securities fraud claims. She was the lead counsel representing Cantor Fitzgerald in one of the longest trials in the Chancery Court. The case resulted in the company winning a multimillion-dollar damages award. Other high-profile cases include representing Priceline.com Inc. in litigation over its acquisition of Kayak Software Corp., and Norfolk Southern Corp. in its acquisition of a substantial portion of Conrail Inc.

In addition to her legal work, Valihura is a member of the advisory board of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware and is a member of the Delaware Supreme Court’s permanent advisory committee on Delaware Lawyers’ Rules for Professional Conduct. She previously served as a member of the Board on Professional Responsibility, having served as board chair for six years, and as a member of the corporation law council of the Delaware State Bar Association.

Valihura had applied for a position as vice chancellor on the Chancery Court in 2011. Although she made the list of three candidates submitted to Markell by the JNC, the opening eventually went to current Vice Chancellor Sam Glasscock III.

During the past 18 years, Valihura has served as a member of the board of directors for the Delaware Special Olympics, and worked for eight years as a member of the Delaware Bar Foundation. She received a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Washington & Jefferson College in 1985 and earned a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

“I am humbled by this great honor, and I wish to thank Gov. Markell for having the faith in me to succeed retiring Justice Jack Jacobs, who contributed greatly to making our Supreme Court a shining star among our nation’s courts,” Valihura said in a released statement. “I also want to thank the members of the Judicial Nominating Commission, and its chair, the former Chancellor William B. Chandler III, for their consideration. Should I be lucky enough to be confirmed by the Delaware state Senate, I look forward to working hard to serve the citizens of this great state as part of one of the best state court systems in the nation.”

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