President Donald Trump is expected to announce Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Colm F. Connolly and Maryellen Noreika, a partner with Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell, as his nominees to fill two open judgeships on Delaware’s district court, multiple sources said this week.
The sources said the White House contacted Connolly and Noreika last week regarding their pending nominations to succeed U.S. District Judges Sue L. Robinson and Gregory M. Sleet of the District of Delaware’s four-member bench. Official background checks have been completed, and both attorneys were preparing materials for senators to review in the confirmation process, they said.
A formal announcement from the Trump administration is expected by the end of the month.
The federal district court in Delaware—which has an outsized role in intellectual property, business law and bankruptcy—has been operating with just two active judges since Robinson and Sleet announced earlier this year that they would take senior status.
Connolly, a Republican and former U.S. attorney, is seen as a lock for the nomination, but Noreika, a prominent intellectual property and patent litigator, could face pushback as a registered Democrat from the Republican-led U.S. Senate, sources said.
Connolly did not return a call seeking comment, and Noreika, reached by telephone at her Wilmington office, declined to comment.
Both attorneys emerged as finalists after a weeks-long review process earlier this summer, spearheaded by Delaware’s Democratic Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons.
Carper, the state’s senior senator, and Coons, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, interviewed six candidates—four Republicans and two Democrats.
In addition to Connolly and Noreika, the senators also recommended Fish & Richardson principal Douglas McCann. But McCann, a Republican and well-known patent litigator, was said to have withdrawn his name shortly after it was forwarded to the White House. He did not respond to multiple calls this week requesting a comment.
Neither senator commented for this story.
Carper and Coons have wielded their influence with the White House in recent weeks despite early doubts about how much weight their suggestions would carry with a Republican administration that has displayed a predilection for disrupting standard processes, sources said. And they managed to hold off a group of Delaware Republicans that were looking to advance its own slate of candidates.
The GOP effort—led by Delaware Republican Party chairman Mike Harrington Sr., along with state committeeman Laird Stabler and committeewoman Ellen Barrosse—last month produced Connolly, Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr partner Richard A. Forsten and Richards, Layton & Finger director Frederick L. Cottrell III as its preferred picks.
Connolly was the only candidate from the Republican short list to have pursued both tracks, and Forsten and Cottrell were no longer considered to be in the running for the federal judgeships.
Sources said Forsten and Cottrell were never interviewed by the administration, and would only be considered in the event that Connolly or Noreika hit a hurdle in the confirmation process.
The snub came as an insult to Harrington, who said he and his team were in regular contact with representatives from the White House. Though he endorsed Connolly, Harrington said he was blindsided to learn the White House was planning to nominate a Democrat.
“Noreika was certainly not our nominee from the party in any way, shape or form,” Harrington said. “I was downright angry and let my anger be known to the Trump administration.”
Harrington said he planned to announce the pending nominations at an executive meeting of the state GOP Thursday night.
“I’m sure I’ve got some upset people,” he said.
The process to fill the two vacancies picked up steam earlier this summer, after the U.S. Supreme Court in May limited venue-shopping in patent litigation. According to the latest numbers from U.S. District Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark of the District of Delaware, new patent filings in the District of Delaware have nearly doubled in the three months since the high court’s ruling in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group, and even more cases are expected to be filed in the fall and winter.
Stark has responded to the increased workload on his shorthanded court by enlisting a roster of visiting judges to help the district’s two magistrate judges handle Robinson’s workload after she retired earlier this summer. Sleet has announced his intention to take senior status, but continues to take new cases for the time being.
Delaware is also looking to the possibility of eventually adding a fifth judgeship to its federal bench. The Judicial Conference of the United States has recommended that Congress create the new position, though there are no indications that any legislation has gained momentum.