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Slights to leave Chancery this spring

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WILMINGTON – Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III will leave the Delaware Court of Chancery this spring, according to a statement released by the court Tuesday.

Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III | PHOTO COURTESY OF MORRIS JAMES

News of Slights’ impending retirement leaked last week after the court began reassigning cases from the vice chancellor after being informed of his decision.

According to the court’s statement, Slights formally submitted his retirement notice to Gov. John Carney on Jan. 6 and intends to leave his place on the bench of the influential court in the second quarter of this year.

Having lost numerous loved ones over the past year, and serving 18 years in two stints on Delaware’s judiciary, Slights is retiring to “focus on enjoying the gifts of good health and time with his family,” the court reported.

In his letter to the governor, Slights wrote, “The Court of Chancery, as an institution, is a Delaware crown jewel … I cannot thank the citizens of Delaware enough … for entrusting me with the honor of doing my small part to ensure that the court continues to thrive in its vital role as Delaware’s dedicated court of equity and the nation’s preeminent business court.”

The departure of Slights after about six years on the bench will give Carney his fourth Chancery appointment during his two terms. Slights’ 12-year term was not scheduled to conclude until 2028.

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 cases that involve shareholders, executives, and corporate boards.

During his tenure, Slights heard cases involving some of the nation’s largest public companies, like Facebook, FedEx, Goldman Sachs and McDonald’s.

He is also currently handling perhaps Chancery’s most high-profile case last year, a shareholder lawsuit against billionaire Tesla CEO Elon Musk on whether he unfairly pushed through a merger with SolarCity, in which he had a stake. It’s unclear how his retirement decision may impact that case, which held several days of hearings last summer and is awaiting Slights’ opinion.

Another case involving Musk and the size of his compensation package has already been moved from Slights to the head of the court, Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick.

“Vice Chancellor Slights has proven to be a model judge and colleague during his time with the Court of Chancery. He will be sorely missed,” McCormick said in a Tuesday statement. “He is a seasoned trial judge known for his exemplary courtroom demeanor. A gifted and prolific writer, few could rival the breadth of cultural references embedded in his numerous decisions. The vice chancellor has proven to be a thought leader on a vast array of legal issues, writing many seminal opinions during his tenure on the bench.”

Slights, a former Superior Court judge and Morris James partner, replaced retiring Vice Chancellor John Noble in 2016. First appointed to the Superior Court in 2000 by then-Gov. Tom Carper, Slights served for 12 years and presided over the court’s Complex Commercial Litigation Division. He moved to Morris James in its Corporate and Commercial Litigation Group for four years before being tapped by then-Gov. Jack Markell for Chancery.

The Chancery judiciary has seen several changing faces in the past two years. After Carney promoted Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. in 2019, he nominated then-Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves to fill Seitz’s vacated seat on the state’s top court. Replacing Montgomery-Reeves was Paul A. Fioravanti Jr., who joined the Court of Chancery in 2020.

Last year, Carney promoted McCormick to Chancery’s top seat after the resignation of Chancellor Andre Bouchard, and backfilled her vice chancellor seat with Lori Will, then a Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati attorney. He also re-nominated Vice Chancellor Travis Laster for a new term.

The court’s other vice chancellors are Sam Glasscock III and Morgan Zurn.

The impending retirement of Slights would open yet another seat on the influential court and reopen debate over the diversity of its bench. Since Montgomery-Reeves’ promotion to the Supreme Court, Chancery has not had a chancellor of color.

Well-known civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton made stops in Delaware in recent months calling for increased diversity on the state’s courts, an effort supported by an advocacy group formed by TransPerfect employees who feel aggrieved by their treatment by the court during a contentious ownership case heard by the Court of Chancery in recent years.

“The days of an all-white Chancery Court are over. It’s time for Governor Carney to appoint a person of color immediately,” that group, the Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, said in a statement after news of Slights’ impending retirement spread.

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