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Carney taps McCormick, Will for Chancery

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WILMINGTON – Gov. John Carney has nominated Vice Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick to replace Andre G. Bouchard at the head of the vastly influential Delaware Court of Chancery.

Vice Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick

If confirmed by the State Senate, McCormick would become the first woman to lead the Court of Chancery, the non-jury court that is home to some of the nation’s most contentious and sensitive business cases.

Bouchard, who has served nearly six years in the top Chancery seat, is retiring as of April 30. During his tenure, Bouchard oversaw the expansion of the Court of Chancery from five to seven officers to hear a growing caseload.

McCormick and the governor have a prior connection, as Carney nominated her to serve as vice chancellor in 2018. Previously, she was a partner in Wilmington at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, where her practice focused on commercial, corporate, and alternative entity litigation in the Court of Chancery. 

“Vice Chancellor McCormick has the experience and good judgment necessary to serve as the next Chancellor of the Delaware Court of Chancery, and make sure Delaware’s preeminent business court is well prepared for the future,” the governor said in a tweet announcing the picks.

To backfill the vice chancellor opened by a potential McCormick promotion, Carney has nominated Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati attorney Lori W. Will. She has focused on corporate, commercial, and federal securities litigation, especially in the Court of Chancery, during her more than four years at the firm. Before joining Wilson Sonsini, Will was a senior associate in the litigation department of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and served as a law clerk to then-Vice Chancellor Leo E. Strine Jr., who would later serve as chief justice of the Delaware Supreme Court.

Lori W. Will | PHOTO COURTESY OF WILSON SONSINI

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 the cases that involve shareholders, executives, and corporate boards.

The nominations were among a slate of judicial candidates offered by Carney on Friday afternoon, but Bouchard’s replacement was the fourth high-profile judicial appointment in about a year for Carney, who has already faced criticism from outside voices over the makeup of the state’s judiciary.

Carney appointed Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr., the state’s top judge, about a year ago. That promotion – as Seitz was already a Supreme Court justice – led to a trickle-down effect that created appointments for Supreme Court Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves and Vice Chancellor Paul A. Fioravanti Jr.

Throughout the latest appointment decisions, the Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware (CPBD) advocacy group has lambasted the state’s lack of diversity on its top courts and even drawn the attention of civil rights leader Al Sharpton. The CPBD was formed by a public relations firm hired by employees of Transperfect, a translation service company that was the center of a bitter 2015 Court of Chancery case between the company’s president and CEO Phil Shawe and his ex-partner Liz Elting overseen by Bouchard.

Despite their public push, including the purchasing of ads in The News Journal and on local radio, Carney’s nominations would, if confirmed, continue an all-white judiciary on the Court of Chancery. The governor did nominate Reneta Green-Streett to serve as a Superior Court judge in Kent County, where she would be the first Black woman to do so.

In a statement following the nominations, Shawe told Delaware Business Times that “this is a definite step in the right direction, but a more diverse court, which you have long advocated for, is just one of many reforms needed at the Chancery Court and the entire Delaware judiciary.”

In a statement issued shortly after the picks were announced, State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Darius Brown said the “judicial nominations put forward today by Governor John Carney will bring much needed racial and gender diversity to the Delaware Judiciary … He deserves tremendous credit for this historic progress, and I look forward to confirming these eight highly-qualified and well-vetted nominees later this month.”

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