Posted: April 10, 2014


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Thirteen minutes were all it took for Delaware to get a new chancellor.

Seven minutes for a confirmation hearing by the Senate's Executive Committee, another six minutes for consideration by the full Senate for a unanimous 21-0 vote on Wednesday in Legislative Hall in Dover, and that was that.

It put Andy Bouchard a swearing-in ceremony away from the most storied judgeship in the state as the chief of the Court of Chancery, the famed forum for corporate law.

Buying a new pair of shoes has been known to take longer. A lot longer.

It went so fast that Greg Lavelle, the Republican minority whip, felt compelled to explain the rapid roll call, almost sheepishly, to a visiting delegation of lawmakers from Kenya.

"For our guests, sometimes this is worth repeating, there's a nominating process for all these positions, a lot of vetting, a lot of interviews and discussions. While there are not any questions here today, the questions have been asked on the front side of these proceedings," Lavelle said.

Without the words to the Kenyans, Bouchard could have been out of there in twelve minutes.

Still, Lavelle had something there. This is the way it goes in a small state, where everybody knows everybody else or at least they like to think they do. Even the official nominating channels -- with candidates passing from the Judicial Nominating Commission to the governor to the Senate -- seem to hold less sway than the informal evaluation that goes on.

Bouchard, who will be leaving behind a corporate practice at Bouchard Margules & Friedlander, is a well-regarded presence in legal circles. If he was not a unanimous choice for chancellor among the bench and bar -- and who would be? -- there was certainly a consensus he was up to it.

The downside to the small-state familiarity that makes a known quantity out of its judicial candidates is the coziness that goes with it.

Ever since Myron Steele announced shortly after Labor Day he would be stepping down as chief justice, it was regarded as a foregone conclusion that Leo Strine Jr. would be elevated from chancellor to chief justice with Bouchard in line to take over in Chancery.

While there was nevertheless a robust pool of applicants for chief justice, the sense of inevitability prevailed by the time it came to choose a chancellor, and the Judicial Nominating Commission was left to beg for candidates not named Bouchard.

Bouchard has 30 days from his confirmation to take his judicial oath for a 12-year term.

He is a graduate of Salesianum, Boston College and Harvard Law, and he chaired the Judicial Nominating Commission until he left it to apply himself. He was a regular contributor to Democratic campaigns, although those contributions have to stop now, with checks going to Jack Markell, the governor who appointed him, as well as the vice president and the congressional delegation. 

Another reason for the speed-voting on Bouchard may well be judgeship fatigue.

The Senate had to plow through nine confirmations for judges last year, and it has handled the nominations for chief justice and chancellor, the state's premier judicial assignments, this year.

Nor is it done yet. Not only is there a Superior Court opening, but Jack Jacobs, a Supreme Court justice, unexpectedly announced his retirement as of July 4.

Since Jacobs is departing four days after the legislature's regular session ends on June 30, the Senate will have to return for a special session, probably in August or September, just as the campaign season is coming on.

If Jacobs' replacement is drawn from a lower court, it would mean yet another special session.

At least Bouchard comes from private practice, so nobody has to be nominated to replace him.