News and analysis: Senate confirms Carney’s selection as chancellor

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Judicial group criticizes governor and Senate for not selecting black judges

The Delaware Senate has confirmed Governor John Carney’s choice as vice chancellor, with a group critical of the state’s judicial selection process registering its objections.

Carney released the following statement Wednesday on Senate votes to confirm the nominations of Nathan Cook as Vice Chancellor of the Court of Chancery and Kelly Hicks Sheridan as Commissioner of the New Castle County Family Court .

“I’m confident that everyone has the experience and judgment necessary to be part of Delaware’s world-class court system,” Carney said. “I want to thank Nathan and Kelly for their willingness to serve, and the members of the Delaware Senate for voting to confirm their nominations.”

A group of activists criticize the choice

Citizens for a Fair Judiciary, formerly Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, continued to criticize the governor for not appointing a black member to the Chancery Court.

The group also noted that activist Keandra Ray was not allowed to testify before Senate approval. Ray protested outside the Wilmington home of Attorney General Kathy Jennings in an attempt to have police prosecuted for shootings. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, working with the justice group, continued to criticize Carney for not appointing a black member of the chancellery after a black vice chancellor joined the state Supreme Court.

“I couldn’t be more frustrated with this whole process, from the secrecy of the nomination to the confirmation by the Senate. With no disrespect to Vice-Chancellor Cook, my testimony today was to ask when diversity within the Court of Chancery would matter enough to our state leaders to pull out all the stops to create a real change. The committee was afraid of this message, either because they did not want to be held responsible for getting serious and finding a way to bring black and brown people to our courts, or because they simply did not want the TO DO.

The selection process

Judicial appointments go through a bipartisan group, the Judicial Appointments Commission, which includes lawyers and non-lawyers, and has people of color among its members. The governor makes his selection from the recommendations submitted by the panel, with the Senate saying yes or no to the choice.

Chancery Court is a civil court of equity that largely handles corporate disputes, as well as homeowners and condominium association cases, and guardianships.

The court issued a landmark decision that ordered the state to reassess the property after a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties groups filed a lawsuit.

The lawsuit claimed that the lack of a reassessment left open the possibility that taxpayers in wealthier districts would not pay their fair share.

The three counties have hired a company to reassess the properties.

Additionally, the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court appointed a panel that made recommendations on increasing diversity in the state court system.

Qualified candidates take pay cuts

In the case of the Chancery Court, it is likely that black corporate lawyers would have to take significant pay cuts to join the court. A local business law firm last year raised the starting salary for associates to a figure that exceeds the $184,000 salary of Chancery members.

Job rotation at the Chancery Court has also increased, with the possibility that former members of the court could earn high salaries in companies. Former Chancellor André Bouchard quit after intense criticism over the sale of TransPerfect which included ads from Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware. He joined the Delaware office of a corporate law firm as an associate.

Citizens for Judicial Fairness has its roots in the controversial sale of business services firm TransPerfect. The sale ended up in the hands of a court-appointed custodian of the chancery. However, disputes have been going on for years over custodian fees and billing.

The group has spent millions of dollars on publicity criticizing the chancery court and the lack of diversity in the state court system.

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