Posted: June 23, 2015
By Celia Cohen
What a shame Jack Markell is not a lawyer, because he would be living the dream.
Could there be anything sweeter as a lawyer than getting to hand-pick every single member of the Supreme Court and the Court of Chancery, the two most exalted benches that Delaware has?
It is better than judicial shopping, when lawyers try to maneuver their case before a sympathetic judge, because it determines who is even available in the judicial store. It is like some weird judiciary fantasy league, but with much more of a kick, because this one is for real, baby.
Markell will score this judicial double-quintuple, appointing or reappointing the chief justice and four justices and the chancellor and four vice chancellors, in the fall with a little more than a year to go before he has to leave office as the Democratic governor.
This feat comes by way of notification from Don Parsons, saying he will step down as vice chancellor on Oct. 22 at the end of a single 12-year term.
Parsons was the last member of the Supreme-Chancery complex to be untouched by Markell's appointment power.
"It looks like he's going to run the table," quipped Larry Hamermesh, a Widener law professor who is a respected court watcher.
Markell already finished refashioning the Supreme Court in February when he named C.J. Seitz as justice to go along with his appointments of Leo Strine Jr. as chief justice and Karen Valihura and Jim Vaughn Jr. as justices, as well as his reappointment of Randy Holland as justice.
Markell's earlier choices for Chancery were Andy Bouchard for chancellor and Travis Laster, Sam Glasscock III and John Noble, as a reappointment, for vice chancellor.
While Markell avoided law school, he did get an MBA at the University of Chicago. It is the right sort of background to give him a deep appreciation for the two courts that are charged with preserving and protecting Delaware's reputation as the premier forum for corporate law, not to mention the font for as much as a third of the state budget.
Markell has done his part with the way he has filled the court openings. He elevated Strine to chief justice from chancellor, he selected Bouchard, Valihura, Seitz and Laster from the ranks of corporate law practitioners, and he promoted Glasscock to vice chancellor from master, a lesser judicial officer on the Court of Chancery.
"It's not about the governor, it's about the judiciary. There will be a time to look back and see how well he did," Hamermesh said.
The timing of Parsons' departure in the fall will require the governor to call the state Senate to Dover for a special session, since the legislature normally meets from January to June.
The confirmation of a new vice chancellor, however, will not be considered alone. Three other members of the judiciary also have terms expiring this fall, namely, Alan Davis, the chief magistrate, Mary Johnston from the Superior Court, and Arlene Coppadge from the Family Court.
The special session should occur sometime from the last week of October to the week before Thanksgiving, according to Andy Lippstone, the governor's counsel.
Parsons leaves a happy man after finding his court experience everything he had hoped for.
"That and more," Parsons said Monday in a brief telephone interview. "I really hate to leave it. I've loved being in this position."
Before going on the bench, Parsons was an intellectual property lawyer at Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell and did a stint as president of the Delaware State Bar Association. His post-judicial plans are not settled, but he expects they will be law-related, probably some teaching and possibly some involvement in public life.
So many appointments have fallen to Markell, primarily because of retirements, that the next governor, due to be elected in 2016, might have to win a second term in 2020 or else get zilch to say about the makeup of the two top courts.
The next time someone is scheduled to come off one of those benches? Travis Laster in 2021.