Posted: March 17, 2016
A HOMECOMING, FOR ALL THAT
By Celia Cohen
Kent County caved. Maybe it just came to its senses.
Whatever, Kent County quit pouting and by all accounts got itself a judge with a sterling reputation to sit as a new vice chancellor on the Court of Chancery, the pride of Delaware's judicial system with its signature docket of corporate law.
Joe Slights got a seat on the court after the state Senate confirmed him resoundingly on Wednesday afternoon in a proceeding that was not as easy as it looked.
Slights will be replacing John Noble, the vice chancellor who retired after presiding for more than 15 years in Dover, which is not only the state capital but also the Kent County seat, a geographical circumstance that had the effect of making things complicated.
This is Delaware. Little children learn their name, how to count to ten, and whether they live above the canal or below it -- their first introduction to the state's jealous politics of geography.
As part of it, there is a tradition the courts should have seats going to New Castle County, Kent County and Sussex County. This is in addition to the actual constitutional requirement for the courts to be politically balanced.
Slights is from a long line of Kent Countians. His grandfather was a force in Democratic politics. His father was a dean at Wesley College in Dover. Slights himself went to Dover High School and got a two-year degree from Wesley before going off to Virginia for more college and law school.
When Slights came home, he went upstate to New Castle County to work in corporate law firms there and take an appointment to the Superior Court, where he sat from 2000 to 2012 until he returned to practicing law, still upstate.
It was treated like Slights had renounced his birthright when Kent County found out Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, was considering him for the Chancery opening. Like Slights was some kind of Kent County mudblood.
No place tallies up geographical grudges more than Kent County. There was some huffing-and-puffing within the Kent County Bar Association. Local legislators were dragged in.
This is Dover. It is not D.C., where senators refuse to consider eminently credentialed judicial nominees because, well, just because.
So Kent County came around, because it really would have been silly not to. Slights was the sort of appointment that could stand the test of time and the test of geography.
Slights was fittingly judicious about this are-not-a-Kent-Countian-am-too situation during his confirmation hearing before the state Senate's Executive Committee.
"Sitting before you as a nominee to serve on the Court of Chancery, especially here in Kent County, is a dream come true," Slights said.
Slights was confirmed by 20-0 with one state senator absent. The absentee was Colin Bonini, a Republican who is from Kent County, but he was out of state for the day, and other state senators from Kent County made it a point to express their support.
Brian Bushweller, a Democratic state senator from Kent County, put it this way, "As a senator from Dover, I'm very proud that the nominee is a graduate of Dover High School. I know that he is of very high moral character and that he has demonstrated excellence both on the bench and before the bench. I feel very, very comfortable with this nomination."
Dave Lawson, a Republican state senator from Kent County, blamed Markell for the geographic grievance and concluded he could not take it out on Slights, saying, "I was prepared to vote against the nomination, but I don't feel it's right. I'm a little disappointed, very disappointed, in the actions of our governor."
Slights has already done some preliminary house-hunting in Kent County -- although not too much, because it is not good form to take a confirmation vote for granted -- but it certainly looks like he will be there before long.
As the saying goes, or it should, you can take the boy out of Kent County, but you can also put him back in.