Nearly one year after taking senior status, U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet of the District of Delaware on Thursday confirmed that he plans to retire this fall, capping a two-decade career on Delaware’s federal court.
In an interview, Sleet said he was ready to step down after helping the shorthanded U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware to navigate a historic surge in patent filings in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s TC Heartland ruling.
Sleet announced last March that he would take senior status, opening a second vacancy on Delaware’s district court. Often, senior judges remain on the bench but opt to preside over a reduced number of cases; however, Sleet chose to maintain a full caseload, despite his semi-retired status.
“It was an institutional concern that I’ve had, and all of the judges have had,” he said. “I think we’re going to be OK.”
Sleet, 66, was nominated by President Bill Clinton and confirmed to the district court in 1998. A political science major, Sleet earned his bachelor’s degree from Hampton University and his Juris Doctor from Rutgers Law School—Camden. While on the bench, he served as chief judge from 2007 to 2014.
Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark quietly announced Sleet’s decision to fully retire Monday in a notice posted to the district court website. On Thursday, Stark thanked his colleague for nearly 20 years of “outstanding” service handling one of the busiest and most complex dockets in the nation.
“His devotion to public service has been demonstrated throughout his career, and not least over the past year, when, as a senior judge, he has continued to take a full and equal share of new cases, despite no obligation to do so,” Stark said in a statement provided to Delaware Law Weekly. “I am very grateful that he has decided to remain on the court until later this year.”
According to Stark’s announcement, Sleet will no longer be assigned new criminal matters starting sometime this spring. For the time being, he will draw the same number of new civil cases as the court’s active judges.
Civil cases set to go to trial this year are currently being transferred from Sleet’s docket.
Last May, Stark engaged a roster of visiting judges to help absorb a sharp uptick in cases after the high court moved to limit forum-shopping in patent litigation. At the time, the court was dealing with a vacancy left by Sue L. Robinson, who officially retired over the summer.
Stark said no new visiting judges had been added since September, and there would be no immediate changes to the existing protocol governing how cases would be assigned to the judges that had already been enlisted.
Meanwhile, Sleet and Robinson’s likely successors are awaiting confirmation by the U.S. Senate to finally fill out the court’s four-member bench. President Donald Trump in December announced former U.S. Attorney Colm F. Connolly, a Republican, and Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell partner Maryellen Noreika, a Democrat, as his choices for the two judgeships.
It was not clear on Thursday when the Senate would vote to confirm the nominees, but Sleet said he expected both Connolly and Noreika to be fully up to speed by the time he steps aside in the fall.
“I think given the qualifications of the two nominees and their experience, I’m sure the court will be fine,” he said.