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Carney nominates Block & Leviton’s Cook to Chancery

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WILMINGTON – Gov. John Carney nominated Block & Leviton managing partner Nathan Cook to the open seat on the influential Court of Chancery on Friday.

Nathan Cook | PHOTO COURTESY OF BLOCK & LEVITON

Cook would succeed Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III, who recently retired after about six years on the bench, citing his 18 years serving in the state’s judiciary and a desire to spend more time with family.

It gave Carney his fourth Chancery appointment during his two terms, and notably reignited a growing debate over the diversity of the influential business-focused bench.

With the Court of Chancery being the home venue to the legal disputes for the state’s more than 1 million legal incorporations, any appointments to the bench are scrutinized by corporate America. It is the judges, who are expected to have a large degree of business litigation experience, and not juries who hear cases that involve shareholders, executives, and corporate boards.

Cook will have to fill the shoes of Slights, who heard cases involving some of the nation’s largest public companies, like Facebook, FedEx, Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s. Notably, he also presided over the perhaps Chancery’s most high-profile case last year, a shareholder lawsuit against billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk who testified in person in Wilmington. Slights recently ruled in favor of Musk.

Cook would bring 16 years of experience litigating before the Court of Chancery to the bench if confirmed by the State Senate. Initially working at Abrams and Laster, and later at Grant & Eisenhofer, Cook is currently the managing partner at the Delaware office of Block & Leviton, He received his undergraduate degree and his law degree from the University of Virginia, and he clerked for Vice Chancellor John Noble on the Court of Chancery.

“I want to thank these two qualified nominees for their willingness to serve the people of the State of Delaware,” Carney said a statement announcing Cook’s nomination along with another judiciary post. “I’m confident that each has the experience and judgment necessary to serve as part of Delaware’s world-class judiciary. I look forward to the Senate considering these nominations.”

Headquartered in Boston, Block & Leviton is a national securities litigation firm well-known for its lawsuits on behalf of shareholders – it’s currently representing shareholders against Musk in Delaware over his deal to buy Twitter. The firm opened a Wilmington office led by Cook in 2020.

As a director at Grant & Eisenhofer, Cook litigated multiple complex matters before the Delaware Court of Chancery and the Delaware Supreme Court, including winning cases for shareholders against Dole Food and media giant Clear Channel. His case with a pension trust against Walmart resulted in a landmark Delaware Supreme Court ruling known as the “Garner doctrine,” which now allows derivative plaintiffs to obtain certain sensitive privileged communications and attorney documents in cases involving substantial allegations of serious fiduciary misconduct.

Cook volunteers with the Delaware Office of the Child Advocate and the Delaware Volunteer Legal Services protection from abuse program.

His qualifications aside, however, Carney is likely to receive criticism from the Citizens for Judicial Fairness, a group formerly known as Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware that was formed by employees of Transperfect, a company with a long, bitter history in the Chancery system.

The Rev. Al Sharpton addresses supporters at a May 24 rally in Dover advocating for greater diversity in Delaware’s judiciary. | PHOTO COURTESY OF CITIZENS FOR JUDICIAL FAIRNESS

It recently launched a $500,000 media campaign to urge Carney to appoint a Black chancellor as Slights’ successor and in the last two years has enlisted celebrity civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton to amplify its message. The group recently bought newspaper ads in San Francisco and Texas aimed to catch the eye of Musk, the most famous personality to enter a Chancery courtroom in recent years, to put his support behind the effort as well.

On Friday, Citizens for Judicial Fairness Campaign Manager Chris Coffey called the nomination “a spineless decision” from Carney.

“He should be ashamed – we will fight this with grassroots and paid media and we won’t stop,” he said.

Sharpton added in a statement, “Governor Carney has ignored the pleas of his constituents and betrayed his own professed commitment to diversity and equity with this decision. The all white chancery should not remain all white in the year 2022 in a state with nearly 40% people of color. Delaware will never achieve trust in its justice system until judges look like the people they represent. This is a massive step backwards and a slap in the face to myself and every Delawarean and local minister who have joined me to rally in the streets for more fair and equitable courts – but we will not be silenced. I will oppose this nomination strongly in the State Senate and ask that they hear from me and Pastor Hackett, Martin, and others. Enough is enough.”

Chancery currently has three women and four men serving, but all are white. Not since Tamika Montgomery-Reeves was promoted to the Delaware Supreme Court in 2020 has the Court of Chancery had a Black chancellor or vice chancellor.

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