Chancellor Bouchard to retire in April
WILMINGTON – Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard, who heads the vastly influential Delaware Court of Chancery, announced Tuesday afternoon that he plans to retire effective April 30.
That will open the fourth high-profile judicial appointment in about a year for Gov. John 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 is bankrolled by Phil Shawe, the president and CEO of TransPerfect, a translation service company that was the center of a bitter 2015 Court of Chancery case between Shawe and his ex-partner Liz Elting overseen by Bouchard.
Shawe has continued to fight the ramifications of the Chancery-ordered sale of TransPerfect, hiring celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz and filing complaints against Bouchard as recently as this Christmas Eve.
“This is a defining moment for the state of Delaware. Hopefully, the next chief chancellor will have a true sense of justice, informed by real world bench and business experience – not white male privilege – and not political connections – perhaps adding diversity to the court. With a fair-minded, even-tempered, and experienced appointee, the Delaware Judiciary has a real opportunity to regain the public’s trust and confidence,” Shawe said in a statement to Delaware Business Times after news of Bouchard’s impending retirement spread.
With the Court of Chancery being the home venue to the legal disputes for the state’s more than 1 million legal corporations, any appointments to the bench are scrutinized by corporate America. It is the judges, who are expected to have a wide degree of business litigation experience, and not juries who hear the cases that involve shareholders, executives, and corporate boards.
Bouchard will step down after nearly six years in the top Chancery seat, having been appointed in May 2014 by then-Gov. Jack Markell. During his tenure, Bouchard oversaw the expansion of the Court of Chancery from five to seven officers to hear a growing caseload.
Before his appointment, Bouchard spent 28 years in private practice in Wilmington, including as the managing partner of a corporate and commercial litigation boutique he founded in 1996. He has not announced any specific plans after he retires from the bench, although many of his predecessors end up returning to private practice.
Bouchard said it was “time to step back, enjoy more time with his family, and pursue other interests.” In his retirement letter to Carney, Bouchard called his service “an honor of a lifetime to serve the citizens of Delaware as the steward of this special institution.”
Seitz, who oversees appeals from Chancery on the state’s Supreme Court, commended his colleague in a statement.
“Confronting a court expansion, a burgeoning caseload, and a pandemic, Chancellor Bouchard led the Court of Chancery with humility, imagination, and grace,” he said Tuesday. “We thank him for his public service, and wish him the best in life after the bench.”
“For more than 225 years, the Delaware Chancery Court has been known for its excellence, its stability and objectivity. Chancellor Bouchard has built on that legacy and has served the state of Delaware with distinction,” Carney added in a statement. “During his time on the bench, Chancellor Bouchard also oversaw an expansion of the Chancery Court to keep pace with caseloads as more entities choose Delaware as their legal home. On behalf of all Delawareans, I want to thank Chancellor Bouchard for his leadership.”