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Vice Chancellor Laster nominated for reappointment

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WILMINGTON – Gov. John Carney recently announced that he will nominate Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster, the longest-serving judge on the influential Delaware Court of Chancery, for reappointment.

Vice Chancellor J. Travis Laster | PHOTO COURTESY OF COURT OF CHANCERY/ERIC CROSSAN

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. 

Laster’s 12-year term is scheduled to end this year, but he will now stand for a reappointment vote once the Delaware State Senate reconvenes in January.

Since being appointed to Chancery Court in October 2009 by then-Gov. Jack Markell, Laster has taken on some of the biggest merger-and-acquisition cases that have come before the court. He’s presided over cases dealing with Barclays, Twitter, Facebook, Walmart, and many more.

“J. Travis Laster has built a reputation for being as tough on bankers as on the corporate directors they advise. He has censured boards he viewed as careless, ripped advisers he viewed as conflicted, rejected settlements he viewed as flimsy and halted transactions he viewed as unfair,” the Wall Street Journal wrote in a 2014 profile.

Lawrence Hamermesh, emeritus professor and former director of the Widener Institute of Delaware Corporate and Business Law, called Laster an “intellectual powerhouse with a large influence on the development of Delaware corporate law,” citing the recent decision in favor of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg and the company’s board against shareholders that was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

“I don’t agree with all of his decisions, but he’s incredibly dedicated and thorough,” Hamermesh added.

Laster has left his mark on Delaware as well through his rulings in two landmark cases concerning property tax assessments and public education funding in the state. His 2020 ruling in the property tax case has led to a statewide property reassessment that kicked off in recent weeks. Meanwhile, his strongly worded opinions in the education case led advocates and the state to broker a settlement that saw the state change its funding formula last year. 

Through his rulings in both cases, Laster asserted the power of the courts to intervene in a broken system arranged by politicians.

Prior to his appointment, Laster was a founding partner of Abrams & Laster LLP, a corporate law boutique specializing in high stakes litigation involving Delaware corporations and other business entities and advising on transactional matters carrying a significant risk of litigation. Before forming Abrams & Laster, he was a director in the corporate department of Wilmington powerhouse firm Richards, Layton & Finger P.A. 

Carney also announced Oct. 1 that he is nominating Deputy Attorney General Martin O’Connor to serve as a Superior Court Commissioner in New Castle County and Georgetown lawyer Theresa Hayes to serve as a judge on the Family Court in Sussex County.

“I want to thank all of these nominees for their willingness to serve the people of the state of Delaware,” Carney said in a statement. “I’m confident that each has the experience and judgment necessary to serve on Delaware’s world-class judiciary. I look forward to the Senate considering these nominations.”

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