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Carney nominates Seitz, Montgomery-Reeves for top court

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Justice Collins Jacques “CJ” Seitz Jr.

Gov. John Carney has nominated Justice Collins Jacques “CJ” Seitz Jr., son of well-known state jurist Collins Seitz, to be the next Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, while also nominating Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves to fill Seitz’s seat, if confirmed.

Montgomery-Reeves would be Delaware’s first black jurist on the state Supreme Court, ending the First State’s inclusion on a list of 18 states that have never had an African American serve on its top court.

The judicial nomination, which requires approval from the Delaware Senate, is scheduled for a Nov. 7 special session confirmation hearing. If approved by the Senate, Seitz and Montgomery-Reeves would begin 12-year terms.

Current Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr., 55, who surprised many with his retirement announcement in July, ends his tenure Oct. 30 – nearly seven years shy of the end of his appointed term. Strine was sworn into the chief seat of Delaware’s top court in February 2014, after serving for 16 years on the Court of Chancery, including more than two years as chancellor.

Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves

In an unusual but not unprecedented move, the Judicial Nominating Commission – which reviews applicants for openings on Delaware’s bench – reportedly forwarded the names of all five applicants for the position to Carney for interviews and consideration.

In addition to Justice CJ Seitz, who already serves on the Supreme Bench, two other Supreme Court justices, James Vaughn Jr. and Karen Valihura, applied for the promotion, according to a source close to the process. In addition, from the Court of Chancery, Chancellor Andre Bouchard applied. And from Delaware’s top trial court, Judge Jan Jurden, president judge of the Delaware Superior Court, applied as well.

If Montgomery-Reeves is confirmed, it would be the first extended period in the Supreme Court’s history that two women have served concurrently. Justice Carolyn Berger, the court’s first female justice, left the bench in September 2014 just three months after Valihura was appointed.

Gov. Markell announced his appointment of Collins “C.J.” Seitz Jr. in February 2015, and Seitz was confirmed to the court by the Delaware Senate a month later, starting a 12-year term that expires on April 14, 2027. Seitz received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Delaware in 1980 and a Juris Doctor from Villanova University School of Law.

The most frequent term applied to Seitz by his peers is that of “a fine legal mind, one of the best,” according to the DBT source. He comes from a long line of legal pedigree. His father, the late Collins Jacques Seitz, was a Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where he was called “the greatest judge in Delaware history” by News Journal editorial columnist Harry Themal, a longtime observer of Delaware’s public affairs and politics.

Before his appointment to the bench, younger Seitz was a founding partner of Seitz, Ross, Aronstam & Moritz LLP. He was also previously the managing partner of Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz LLP.

“Justice Seitz is one of Delaware’s finest legal minds, and I’m pleased to send his nomination to the Delaware Senate,” Carney said in the prepared statement. “Delaware courts have a longstanding reputation across our country as objective, stable, and nonpartisan. Justice Seitz has the judgment, sense of fairness, and experience necessary to maintain and build on that reputation as our next Chief Justice. I look forward to the Senate considering his nomination.”

Montgomery-Reeves was nominated and confirmed in 2015 to serve on the Court of Chancery. Before joining the judiciary, she practiced at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Wilmington, where she focused on corporate governance and business litigation. Montgomery-Reeves also practiced at Weil Gotshal & Manges in New York, where she focused on corporate governance and securities litigation.

“Since 2015, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves has served with distinction on Delaware’s Court of Chancery – our country’s premier venue for corporate litigation,” Carney said in his press release. “Before her appointment to the Court of Chancery, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves practiced corporate law in Wilmington and New York. She’s the right person to serve as the next Associate Justice on our Supreme Court. I look forward to the Senate considering her nomination.”

Montgomery-Reeves graduated from the University of Mississippi and the University of Georgia School of Law, where she continues to serve as a guest professor, according to its website.

The “merit selection” by Judicial Nominating Commission is a process that former Gov. Pierre S. du Pont IV, who served from 1977 to 1985, put in place in his first term to “take the politics out of judicial selection.”

Aside from Justices Strine, Seitz, Vaughn and Valihura, Justice Gary Traynor serves on the five-member Supreme Court, having been confirmed in 2017.

– By Jacob Owens & Sam Waltz

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