Delaware’s court system reigns supreme again

DOVER — Delaware has the nation’s top judiciary for the 14th year in a row, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study.

The study focuses on business lawsuits and is based on a survey of 1,200 lawyers and executives at major companies across the nation.

The report finds the First State is first in how fair its legal system is. It ranks in the top two in every one of the 10 categories used by the chamber, including first in judge competence, treatment of litigation and timeliness.

The report, which has been issued 10 times since 2002, has placed Delaware first every single time.
Vermont ranks second and West Virginia is last. States are somewhat scattered in the findings with no real pattern by geography.

The Delaware Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, is centered in Dover. Justices issue well-thought-out decisions quickly, according to one legal expert, a key factor in the state’s recent high ranking in a report on the American legal system. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

The Delaware Supreme Court, the highest court in the state, is centered in Dover. Justices issue well-thought-out decisions quickly, according to one legal expert, a key factor in the state’s recent high ranking in a report on the American legal system. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

“This report reflects a relentless commitment to predictability and fairness in our laws and our judiciary, and it confirms that Delaware’s standing as a premier place to do business remains as strong as ever,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement.

“But, most of all, the number one ranking recognizes the talented jurists across all of our courts who consistently demonstrate outstanding intellect and legal expertise that produce thoughtful decisions.”

Delaware is frequently cited as a business-friendly environment, thanks to its Court of Chancery and corporate case law. A vast number of businesses are incorporated in the state, including two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies.

According to the Chamber of Commerce, 75 percent of respondents said a state’s litigation environment was likely to impact where they placed their businesses.

But Delaware’s ranking goes far beyond that.

Paul Regan, a corporate law professor at Widener University’s Delaware Law School, said the biggest aspect benefiting the state’s legal system is that judges in the state are appointed rather than elected.

A member of the bar in the state for 30 years, he credited the appointment process — which involves a committee that makes recommendations to the governor, who then must have his or her choice approved by the state Senate — as preventing the “politicking, favoring, it’s-your-turn kind of judges.”

Delaware’s courts must also be balanced. For instance, the five-member Supreme Court can have no more than three members of one party, meaning that a governor may have to pick a candidate of the opposite political party to preserve that balance.

Along with a general culture of fairness, the process keeps nominations from devolving into partisan bickering like that often seen at the federal level, particularly for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Delaware is a “remarkable place,” Mr. Regan said, noting its small size may play into that friendly legal system.

Judges and opposing lawyers are polite and respectful, he said, citing his own experience. When taking on a Family Court case for the first time and finding himself somewhat out of his element, he received assistance from the other side’s lawyer.

“This Delaware way of kind of, ‘Look, we’re going toe to toe, I think my client’s right because x, and you say y, but we’re going to do this in the most honorable way we can,’” he said.

Judges are required to issue an opinion from within 90 days of when a case is submitted, meaning decisions are provided in a timely manner and with transparency and accountability, he said.

Mr. Regan said he was pleased to hear Delaware had been honored for the 10th consecutive year — a sign, he said, of a truly satisfying and respectful system.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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