Judicial group slams governor, Senate for not selecting Black judges
The Delaware Senate confirmed Gov. John Carney’s choice for Vice Chancellor, with a group critical of the state’s judicial selection process registering its objections.
Carney on Wednesday issued the following statement on the Senate’s votes to confirm the nominations of Nathan Cook to serve as Vice Chancellor of the Court of Chancery and Kelly Hicks Sheridan as a Commissioner for the Family Court in New Castle County.
“I’m confident that each has the experience and judgment necessary to serve as part of Delaware’s world-class judiciary,” said Carney. “I want to thank Nathan and Kelly for their willingness to serve, and members of the Delaware Senate for voting to confirm their nominations.”
Activist group criticizes pick
Citizens for a Fair Judiciary, formerly Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, continued to criticize the governor for not nominating a Black member to Chancery Court.
The group also noted that activist Keandra Ray was not allowed to testify prior to Senate approval. Ray has demonstrated in front of the Wilmington home of Attorney General Kathy Jennings in attempting to get police prosecuted for shooting incidents. Civil rights leader Al Sharpton, working with the judicial group, has continued to criticize Carney for failing to nominate a Black chancery member after a Black vice-chancellor joined the state Supreme Court.
“I couldn’t be more frustrated by this entire process from the secrecy of the nomination to the rubber-stamped Senate confirmation. In no disrespect to Vice Chancellor Cook, my testimony today was to ask when diversity on the Chancery court would matter enough to our state leaders that they would put any effort toward creating real change. The committee was scared of that message either because they didn’t want to be held accountable to get gritty and find a way to bring Black and Brown people to our courts, or they just don’t want to.”
The selection process
Nominations for judicial positions go through a bipartisan group, The Judicial Nomination Commission, which includes lawyers and non-lawyers, and has among its members people of color. The governor makes his selection from recommendations submitted by the panel, with the Senate saying yea or nay on the choice.
Chancery Court is a civil court of equity that largely handles corporate disputes, along with home owner association and condominium matters, and guardianships.
The court did issue a landmark ruling that ordered the state to reassess property after a coalition of civil rights and civil liberties groups filed suit.
The suit claimed the lack of reassessment left open the possibility that taxpayers in wealthier districts were not paying their fair share.
All three counties have hired a firm to reassess properties.
Also, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court appointed a panel that came up with 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 big pay cuts to join the court. One local corporate law firm last year raised the starting salary for associates to a figure that exceeds the $184,000 salary of Chancery members.
Turnover in Chancery Court posts has also increased, with the possibility that former court members can fetch high salaries at corporate firms. Former Chancellor Andre Bouchard left his post after intense criticism over the TransPerfect sale that included ads from Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware. He joined the Delaware office of a corporate law firm as a partner.
Citizens for Judicial Fairness has its roots in the controversial sale of business services company TransPerfect. The sale ended up in the hands of a custodian appointed by the Chancery Court. However, disputes have gone on for years about fees and billing for the custodian.
The group has spent millions of dollars in advertising criticizing the Chancery Court and the lack of diversity in the state judiciary.