Posted: March 20, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Just like that, Delaware has its new chiefs of corporate law.

The wheels of justice are said to turn slowly, but in this case they looked like they had a little grease.

Just 20 days ago, Leo Strine Jr. morphed from chancellor to chief justice, and now Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, has decided to nominate Andy Bouchard, a leading corporate law practitioner, to take over as the presiding judge on the Court of Chancery.

The handoff from Strine to Bouchard appeared to be telegraphed when Bouchard recently stepped down as the chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission, the panel that screens and recommends applicants for judgeships to the governor.

It puts the state a Senate confirmation vote away from new leadership on Chancery and the Supreme Court sitting in tandem at the top of the legal-corporate complex, which gives Delaware its international reputation for business law and finances about 40 percent of its budget.

Strine and Bouchard go way back. Bouchard was in his second or third year as an associate at Skadden, the mammoth global law firm with a presence in Wilmington, when a summer associate was assigned a desk in his office. It was Strine.

They became friends but went different ways. Strine turned to the public side of the law as the counsel to Tom Carper, when the Democratic senator was the governor, and then went onto the bench, while Bouchard made his way in private practice, first at Skadden and later at his own firm, now known as Bouchard Margules & Friedlander, although not necessarily for much longer.

Now they are on the threshold of being colleagues again with twin nominations from the governor.

"In nearly 30 years practicing law in Delaware, Andy Bouchard has demonstrated a remarkable ability to dissect complex legal issues and vigorously represent his clients. He is well-recognized for his professionalism and ability to think quickly on his feet," Markell said in a statement.

"I am proud to nominate him to lead the world's most influential court for corporate law."

Bouchard's appointment was so anticipated, the applications were scarce for chancellor, even though the post is regarded as the most storied judgeship in the state, even more than chief justice, although if anyone can change that way of thinking, it would be Strine, who has shown he can shine and scorch like a legal Sun King.

Bouchard's only competition -- and it was serious competition -- came from David McBride, a respected corporate lawyer at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, and not to be confused with the state Senate's majority leader of the same name.

Bouchard, at 53, is a baby boomer like Strine, who became the first of their generation to take charge of the Supreme Court. While their presence would cement a generational shift, it does not represent any change otherwise in the way of diversity on the two leading courts.

The first woman on either Chancery or the Supreme Court was Carolyn Berger, who was appointed as vice chancellor in 1984, and now 30 years later, she is still the only woman ever to serve on either court, although now she is a justice.

Still, there could be change to come. All four justices -- Randy Holland, Jack Jacobs, Henry Ridgely and Berger -- are eligible to retire, and there is also an expectation that John Noble and Don Parsons, both vice chancellors, could leave the bench in the next few years.

That would keep the wheels of justice spinning, grease or no grease.