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Advocates for TransPerfect pivot to ‘good government’ reforms

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By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

The advocacy group that fought hard to stop the court-ordered sale of TransPerfect says it now seeks to reform Delaware’s entire judicial system. 

When Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware formed in 2016, the group was focused on a handful of goals: advocate against the Chancery Court decision to force the sale of the global translation company and push for legislation in the General Assembly to stop the sale.

Chris Coffey, the group’s campaign manager, speaking at a rally in Wilmington on Wednesday, July 10. Photo courtesy of TransPerfect

While many thought the group would disband after it effectively succeeded, campaign manager Chris Coffey predicted the group had staying power.

“I told reporters in 2016 and 2017 that we would be back,” he said. “They didn’t believe it.”

The group recently held a rally to announce a new platform to revamp the Court of Chancery and the state judicial system around four principles: transparency, equity, freedom of speech and accountability.

“They’re fired up,” Coffey said of its members, who are primarily TransPerfect employees and their families. “They really, really want to see some change and are in it for the long haul.”

Delaware’s legal establishment has fired back against the group. 

“Our Court of Chancery is widely respected here in Delaware, across the country and throughout the world,” said William Brady, president of the Delaware State Bar Association. “The accusations made by this so-called ‘citizens group’ about the Court are wholly without merit and deserve no further attention.”

Kevin Obarski, a TransPerfect’s Atlanta-based chief revenue officer and a stockholder in Delaware-based companies, supports the platform because he is concerned the system is “making money off the backs of businesses.” 

Coffey, who heads Tusk Strategies’ New York practice, said the group is staffing a booth at the Delaware State Fair, knocking on doors and conducting a grassroots campaign to grow Delaware membership, which is less than 1,300 of its 2,700 members. 

“Nothing can replace direct voter-to-voter contact,” he said. “The best way to get new members is to be approached by a neighbor.” 

More Delaware members means more voters signing petitions, making calls and sending emails to legislators, Coffey added. 

The group plans to spend $500,000 to $1 million in the next six months to promote the seven-point platform. Two points cover the entire judiciary: Ensure that appointed judges can’t serve on the reviewing Court of Judiciary, and require financial disclosures by Delaware’s judges. 

The other five focus on the Chancery: 

• Establish an independent inspector general’s office. 

• Ensure that all ties between custodians and judges are disclosed and consented to by all parties. 

• Require custodians’ bills to be itemized and released. 

• Always allow a camera in court. 

• Require chancellors to be selected for cases by a literal or digital “wheel spin.” 

A representative of the state court system declined to comment on the platform. 

Coffey said the group decided not to change its name based on the brand awareness it gained spending $1 million advocating against the Chancery Court action.

The background of the TransPerfect case is notoriously complicated, but it all began when co-founders Phil Shawe Shawe and Elizabeth Elting ended their romantic relationship. Because TransPerfect was incorporated in Delaware at the time, the Court of Chancery decided its fate following a pitched legal fight. Delaware Chancellor Andre Bouchard ordered the company to be sold.

Even through TransPerfect changed its incorporation to Nevada and does not have a Delaware office, Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware says it is committed to making changes in the First State.

The group is willing to share resources — mostly money, but also people – with existing Delaware groups, say by funding research positions, Coffey said. He added that it “probably will” create a political action committee to allow for campaign contributions as well. 

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