Posted: Feb. 29, 2016


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

In the beginning, there was a void, and the void looked like it might never end.

The void was created by an opening for chancellor, an assignment right up there with governor for its importance to Delaware, because the chancellor is the chief of the Court of Chancery with its corporate law docket that means so much in reputation and revenue to the state.

Then the void got larger, because Andy Bouchard, a well-regarded corporate law practitioner who was chairing the governor's Judicial Nominating Commission, stepped down from there so he could put in his own name for chancellor.

It was Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, who had to stare into the void and figure out what to do about it. Not only was it up to the governor to nominate the next chancellor, but he could not even do that before he appointed someone new to chair the Judicial Nominating Commission so it could screen the candidates.

Enter Bill Chandler, who was once the chancellor himself, enlisted by Markell  to take over the Judicial Nominating Commission.

They knew each other well, going back to the days they served together on the Board of Pardons, when Markell was the treasurer and Chandler was the chancellor. Between their long association and Chandler's standing in legal circles, it never even mattered Chandler was a Republican.

Chandler was busy with a private law practice, but it was 2014 and Markell had only two years left in office. How much work could there be?

Ha! The void turned out to be not just a void, but a black hole, sucking in judicial appointment after judicial appointment.

Chancellor. Three Supreme Court justices. Two vice chancellors. The Superior Court president judge. The Family Court chief judge. The chief magistrate. Assorted other judges.

After that onslaught, there is finally a letup, and Chandler has stepped down. Enough already.

"If I had my druthers, I'd probably stay on. It is a very satisfying experience. It was pretty time-consuming, because of all the appointments that came up," Chandler said.

The new chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission is Greg Williams, a partner at Fox Rothschild. Since Williams was already a member, Markell brought the commission back to full strength by adding Charles Toliver IV, a retired Superior Court judge now in private practice at Morris James.

Markell should be just about finished making judges. After all, he has already appointed or reappointed about 80 percent of the 58-member judiciary, up to and including the chief justice.

It is an extraordinary number, especially because judges serve for 12-year terms that can span even two-term governors.

Markell's most recent selection of Joe Slights as vice chancellor will be up for confirmation by the state Senate, once the General Assembly returns to Dover next month from its annual winter break, and after that, there are only a couple of Family Court judges whose terms expire before the next governor takes office in January 2017.

That is, if there are no more unexpected resignations. It was the departure of four members of the Supreme Court before their terms were up that kept the void yawning. Not only did they have to be replaced, but some of their replacements came from lower courts that also needed replacements.

For example, the retirement of Myron Steele as chief justice begat the promotion of Leo Strine Jr. from chancellor begat the opening that went to Bouchard.

In the midst of everything, Chandler contributed a law partner to the cause. Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, who worked with him at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, applied for an opening for vice chancellor last year and got it. (Chandler naturally withdrew himself from the deliberations.)

It figures Chandler's law practice would be pulled in. No matter what, he could not avoid a void.