Women in the Law

Sole woman judge on top Delaware court says she 'wasn't taken seriously' as chief justice contender

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A longtime judge on Delaware’s top court says she will be retiring early because she “wasn’t taken seriously” when she applied for the chief justice position.

While she has no personal objection to the chief justice recently selected by Gov. Jack Markell, “what bothers me is I wasn’t taken seriously,” Delaware Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger tells the News Journal.

Berger is the only woman ever to have served on the state’s top court. She was appointed in 1994 by then-Gov. Tom Carper, an earlier News Journal article notes. She cites her own recent experience as just one example of an uneven playing field for women as far as the state’s judiciary is concerned.

“Women have made some progress on the family court, superior court and court of common pleas,” the 65-year-old Berger said. “But family court is the only court ever to have a woman chief judge. The court of chancery has had no women judges for the past 20 years, despite the fact that several well-qualified women have applied in the past. And I’ve been the only woman on the supreme court. Many other states have more than one woman justice, and in several jurisdictions, women justices outnumber male justices.”

Andrew Lippstone, who serves as chief legal counsel to Markell, said the quality of the state’s highly regarded judiciary speaks for itself and pointed to the number of women appointed to the bench by Markell. They comprised nearly half of the judges Markell named, although two-thirds of the state’s lawyers are men, and the governor also has named a woman to fill a vacant seat on the supreme court, Lippstone noted, although she has not yet been confirmed.

Markell “recognizes that being a great chief justice requires not just experience, but also a vision for the future of the Delaware courts,” Lippstone said. “The governor had several capable, highly qualified candidates for consideration, and it was his job to select the candidate who he believed would be the best chief justice. The governor believes he got it right.”

The new chief justice, Leo Strine Jr., was named to the state chancery court’s top post by Markell in 2011. He was nominated by Markell at the beginning of 2014 to head the state’s top court—the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) called the move “a widely expected promotion” for Strine—and confirmed later in January. A Reuters article discusses his plans for the court.

Strine declined to comment, through a court administrator, when contacted by the News Journal.

Berger’s current term doesn’t expire until midway through 2018, but she plans to retire Sept. 1.

Related article:

Delaware Law Weekly: “Disappointment in Chief Justice Process Led to Resignation Decision, Berger Says”

Updated on June 24 to add a link to the Delaware Law Weekly article.

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