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Vice Chancellor Slights to retire

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WILMINGTON – Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III has informed the Delaware Court of Chancery that he will soon retire, according to court filings, creating a new opening on the influential court.

Vice Chancellor Joseph Slights III | PHOTO COURTESY OF MORRIS JAMES

The news, first reported by Law360 on Thursday, came after Chancellor Kathaleen McCormick began reassigning cases from Slights following the notice of his impending retirement.

“Vice Chancellor Slights has been a tremendous asset to our court and, indeed, our state; he will be sorely missed,” McCormick said in a statement. “The vice chancellor has done us the courtesy of announcing his retirement well in advance of his anticipated end date, which he has not yet selected, so that we can ensure an orderly transition. Per the usual process, the timeline for posting his position and selecting and confirming his replacement will be established by the Judicial Nominating Commission, the Office of the Governor, and the State Senate.”

The departure of Slights after more than five years on the bench will give Gov. John 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 the 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 from 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 McCormick.

Slights, a former Superior Court judge and Morris James partner, replaced a retiring Vice Chancellor John Noble in 2016. First appointed to 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 to a new term.

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

The impending retirement of Slights, who has not publicly set a date yet, would open yet another seat on the influential court and reopen debate over the diversity of its bench. Since Montgomery-Reeves’ promotion to 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 Thursday statement. 

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