Posted: Sept. 24, 2015
By Celia Cohen
Someone is about to be only the third woman ever to get to the most prestigious reaches of the Delaware court system.
Three women are said to be in the running for an opening on the Court of Chancery, the most storied bench in the state, to replace Don Parsons, a vice chancellor who is departing next month when he completes a single 12-year term.
The impetus to chip away more of the gender barrier was so strong that no men even bothered applying, Delaware Grapevine has learned.
Now it is up to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, to consider the candidates said to be on a confidential list compiled for him by his Judicial Nominating Commission and to make his appointment, subject to confirmation by the state Senate at a special session set for Oct. 28.
Markell is said to have a junior judicial officer and two corporate lawyers as his pool of choices for the court that has brought enduring fame to Delaware for its business law docket, namely:
--Abby LeGrow, a master handling lesser matters on Chancery and previously a lawyer at Potter Anderson & Corroon, as well as a state Supreme Court law clerk;
--Tamika Montgomery-Reeves, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, where she works with Bill Chandler, a former chancellor who chairs the Judicial Nominating Commission, and previously was a Chancery law clerk for him;
--Elena Norman, a partner at Young Conaway Stargatt & Taylor, a major legal presence notable as an incubator for future judges.
All of the finalists did their part to uphold the confidentiality of the selection process, notoriously leaky though it is, by making themselves unavailable for an interview.
Up until now, there have been only two women appointed to the Court of Chancery and the Supreme Court, the two benches situated atop the state's judicial chain.
The first was Carolyn Berger, who retired in 2014 after a lonely 20 years as a vice chancellor and a justice. The second was Karen Valihura, who became a justice as Berger was exiting.
It is still conceivable a woman may not be the next vice chancellor, because the governor is always reserved the right to request another round of candidates from the Judicial Nominating Commission, but it seems remote.
Not with the credentials of the candidates before him. Not to mention a state where more than half the population are women.
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With a year still to go as a two-term governor, Jack Markell has motored through the entire membership of the two top courts.
He appointed or reappointed everybody on the Supreme Court. Ditto for the Court of Chancery, once Parsons is gone.
It is one thing to get a sweep of those benches, which have five judges each, but it is something else to try to wrap a governorship around the Superior Court, which is the state's third major court.
The Superior Court, with its vast docket of criminal and civil cases, has 21 judges, and Markell is on his way to naming a giant share of them.
It looks like he will appoint or reappoint three-quarters of the judges before he is done.
Markell is working on two openings right now. Mary Johnston, who is up for reappointment for another 12-year term, is expected to be confirmed when the state Senate holds its special session next month. Fred Silverman, a judge since 1993, just announced his retirement.
That would give Markell the naming rights to all but five judges, whose 12 years in office span his eight years, all that the constitution allows him, although it was very nearly all but four judges.
The term for Bill Witham ends Jan. 19, 2017. Delaware gets a new governor two days before.