Chief justice wants additions to Chancery Court

The Kent County Courthouse on Federal Street in Dover. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Chief Justice Leo Strine is seeking to expand the Court of Chancery from five members to seven. The change, which must come through legislation, would be the first to the court since it added one vice chancellor in 1989.

Chief Justice Strine told budget officials Wednesday the addition is needed to keep up with heavy demand involving legal services and incorporation, which he called the state’s “primary industry.”

Thanks to its friendly laws, detailed case law and experienced Court of Chancery, Delaware is a major hub for corporations. The state is home to more than 1 million legal entities, including two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies.

That status as a premier incorporation state means disputes and questions from some of the world’s largest companies have come before Delaware Court of Chancery.

The court handles “corporate matters, trusts, estates, and other fiduciary matters, disputes involving the purchase and sale of land, questions of title to real estate, and commercial and contractual matters in general,” according to its website.

“What’s different about our courts for the business community is we deliver real-world answers with world-class quality,” Chief Justice Strine said after the hearing. “Remember for businesses, they’re not going to agree with everything you do. Nor are the stockholders. But you get a fair shake here.”

The proposal would add two vice chancellors and eight supporting staffers. It carries a cost of $1.2 million, of which about $700,000 comes from the General Fund, while the rest comes from money set aside by the court from fines and fees.

“There’s a price to being successful,” the chief justice said. “If you have more customers, you have more customers because they like the product and services you’re delivering but if you don’t actually make the investment to give them the same quality of service that brought them there, you’re going to lose your customers.”

Chief Justice Strine himself is a former member of the court, including nearly three years as chancellor. His successor, Andre Bouchard, has led the court since 2014.

By law, it must be balanced, meaning the five-member body cannot have more than three members of one party.

The current five members were all appointed by former Gov. Jack Markell, who served from 2009 to January this year.

Though lawmakers must approve any change to the makeup of the courts, Chief Justice Strine said he presented the request as part of his budget ask in hopes the governor will include it in his January recommendations.

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