Leo Strine confirmed as chief justice of Delaware's Supreme Court

DOVER, Del. Wed Jan 29, 2014 7:05pm EST

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DOVER, Del. Jan 29 (Reuters) - The outspoken head of the state's nationally important business court was confirmed unanimously as the chief justice of Delaware's Supreme Court on Wednesday after breezing through legislative approval.

Leo Strine was confirmed by a 20-0 vote in the state Senate's Executive Committee. He said he expected to be sworn in as chief justice in the coming weeks.

Strine is the chancellor, or chief judge, of the state's Court of Chancery, which handles business affairs and disputes. That state court is especially important in the U.S. because most publicly traded companies in the country incorporate in Delaware.

He brings to the high court a national reputation as a workaholic judge who regularly displays his mastery of the state's corporate law through his lengthy opinions.

During his confirmation hearing, the State Senate Executive Committee questioned him mostly on narrow issues such as court administration and the decriminalization of fishing violations for taking undersized flounder.

Strine said he would spend his first year on the high court taking the temperature of the state's judiciary.

"My intention is, if things go well today, to spend as much time as I can in the next year to listen to, first and foremost, to the current members of the Supreme Court. To find out why things are the way they are," he said.

The committee briefly touched upon one mild controversy: the state's novel private arbitration system, which allowed businesses to bring disputes to the Court of Chancery for confidential resolution by one of the five judges.

A federal court in Philadelphia found the arbitration violated the U.S. Constitution's presumption that civil trials must be public, and shut the system down in 2012. The state filed an appeal last week with the U.S. Supreme Court, with Strine named as the petitioner.

"Those who know me know I don't like to lose, especially when I'm a named defendant," he said.

He described the arbitration system as key way for the state to remain competitive in what he called the state's most important industry -- chartering businesses -- and to cut court costs.

Strine stressed that the state needed to remain a go-to venue for business disputes as more companies consider incorporating in places such as Bermuda or Hong Kong. The industry brings in fees and income that accounts for up to 40 percent of Delaware's general budget revenue.

"That's where we need to remain competitive," he told the committee.

Strine has stood out in the often dull world of corporate law for his courtroom asides ranging from pop culture to the behavior of Wall Street bankers.

He made what has become his signature joke -- about his baldness -- three times during the hearing.

His tendency to speak his mind, however, has also landed him in hot water. In 2012, a transcript from a routine scheduling conference highlighted an awkward attempt to use religion for humor.

With Strine's confirmation, speculation will begin about his successor on the Court of Chancery.

Many have focused their attention on Andre Bouchard of Bouchard Margules & Friedlander in Wilmington. The firm has represented the state in federal courts, and Bouchard chaired the judicial nominating committee that sent Strine's name to Governor Jack Markell. (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Amanda Kwan)

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