Law Experts Weigh in on Impact of Significant Turnover on Del. S - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Law Experts Weigh in on Impact of Significant Turnover on Del. Supreme Court


DOVER, Del. (WBOC) - An historic period of change. That's what legal experts are calling the current situation on the Delaware State Supreme Court.

On Friday Gov. Jack Markell announced the retirement of justice Henry duPont Ridgely. Justice Ridgely will officially leave office at the end of January.

He'll be the fourth justice to retire in the span of one year. Four is a lot in just a year. The Court only has five justices.

Chief Justice Myron Steele, Associate Justices Jack Jacobs, Carolyn Berger and now Henry duPont Ridgely all gone in just one year.

Justice Randy Holland - the longest-serving justice in state history - will still be on the bench.

"The turnover on the Court is historic. We've never seen anything like this before in Delaware," said Jeff Mordock, with Delaware Law Weekly. He says it's likely the timing of all this coincidence.

Larry Hammermesh, a professor at the Widener University School of Law, agrees it's luck of the draw. He says while changeover of four seats on the US Supreme Court basically all at once could cause massive political turmoil, that's just not going to happen with the Delaware Supreme Court.

"The state constitution requires that there be political balance on the supreme court. So, there's no political occasion with all these vacancies to shift the ideology of the court from one side to another."

The Delaware Supreme Court is important not just in Delaware but nationally, too. More than half of the Fortune 500 is incorporated in the First State. So, the justices handle a lot of major corporate cases.

"You always worry about the risk of loosing institutional knowledge when you have this kind of turnover," said Hammermesh. "But there are factors that push against that concern."

Hammermesh says the appointed new justices individually have expertise in the areas of laws individual retiring justices did.

Mordock doesn't think four relatively new justices all at once will be a big deal.

"The Delaware Supreme Court is bigger than the individuals who make it up," he said. "I think we're looking for consistent interpretation of law."

Some of the justices may have left or be leaving simply because it's time but apparently not all.

Out-going Justice Berger told the Mordock and Delaware Law Weekly in June she was leaving the bench because she believed Gov. Markell hadn't seriously considered her for the job of chief justice when it was vacant.



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