I enjoy reflecting on previous articles and issues that relate to current issues. I occasionally get the bit in my teeth and become totally focused. Five years ago, Chancellor Andre Bouchard got my attention through his response to a letter I wrote to him. Judges rarely respond to letters, so I really must have struck a nerve. Here’s what happened:
Cindy Green, who ran the Register of Wills office, had recommended someone ideally qualified for the job of Register of Wills Office, Chief Deputy, who was instrumental in bringing the office up to modern standards. Bouchard ignored Green’s recommendation and appointed someone far less qualified. I saw this injustice and wrote a letter to the Chancellor for not appointing the most qualified person. Bouchard, extremely defensive, wrote me back. He went on to hire two more unqualified people for that same job. You can see our exchange below.
Since 2015, I have followed Chancellor Bouchard’s activities closely, and have been critical of his handling of the TransPerfect case, even writing letters to the Court. So I say to Chancellor Bouchard now: “I certainly struck a nerve when after 3 attempts you couldn’t appoint a decent Chief Deputy, and I criticized you. Now, where is your response to your decisions on the bias and subjective decisions you rendered in the TransPerfect case, and do you have any comments on certain appearances of impropriety and conflicts of interest?”
Read the letters below folks which I dug up from the Coastal Network archives which you might find amusing.
I would love to hear from him again on his shady, selfish, self-serving handling of the TransPerfect case.
JUDSON Bennett-Coastal Network
FOLKS, READ BOUCHARD’s RESPONSE TO MY LETTER BELOW—
FOR A SITTING JUDGE TO RESPOND TO A COMPLAINT IS QUITE RARE!
COURT OF CHANCERY
STATE OF DELAWARE
|ANDRE G. BOUCHARD
|New Castle County Courthouse
500 N. King Street, Suite 11400
Wilmington, Delaware 19801-3734
October 7, 2015
Mr. Judson Bennett
Re: Sussex County Register of Wills Office
Dear Mr. Bennett:
We write concerning the email you sent to the Chancellor on Monday, October 5, 2015. Your email reflects a basic misunderstanding concerning the situation in the Sussex County Register of Wills office to which the Court feels a response is necessary to set the record straight.
As an initial matter, it is important to understand that the Register of Wills serves as a vital arm of the Court of Chancery. This historical role derives from the Court’s oversight over the administration of decedents’ estates as part of its equitable jurisdiction. In that vein, the Court hears, among other matters, exceptions to estate accountings, petitions to determine the order of priority for distributions of estate property, petitions to authorize the sale of real estate owned by a decedent, and rules to show cause concerning the removal of estate representatives. With respect to each of these and many other matters, the Register of Wills serves functionally as a branch of the Court. The Court-appointed chief deputy, in particular, serves as a liaison to the Court when these matters are presented for judicial review. The statute governing the Register of Wills reflects this role.
The first provision of that statute states that “[i]n performing the functions of the office, the Register of Wills of each county shall act only as a Clerk of the Court of Chancery.” 12 Del. C. § 2501. Consistent with this purpose, the statute further provides that “[t]he Chancellor shall name a chief deputy register of wills for each county who shall perform such duties as shall from time to time be assigned by the Court of Chancery.” 12 Del. C. § 2507(a).
In accordance with its statutory obligation to name the chief deputy in each county office, the Court has taken very seriously its responsibility to identify and select the best qualified person to serve in that position in the Sussex office.
When a vacancy arose in December 2014, the opening was advertised publicly to solicit candidates. Candidates were required to complete an application and were vetted by a committee consisting of the two judicial officers of the Court of Chancery resident in Sussex County (Vice Chancellor Glasscock and Master Ayvazian), the Register in Chancery, the Director of Human Resources for Sussex County, and the elected Register of Wills. The candidates were ranked based on a set of criteria for the job, the Chancellor interviewed the top three candidates, and chose the one who received the highest ranking from the interview panel.
There was no obligation to go through such an extensive process to select a candidate, but the purpose of doing so was to ensure that the selection process was objective, focused on job performance needs, and allowed all interested parties to have a voice in the selection process.
It would be inappropriate to engage in a public discussion over personnel matters involving a former county employee, but it must be said that your criticisms of the current Court-appointed chief deputy are unfair and unfounded. Richard Kiger, Esq. served for fourteen years as a Master in Chancery and was the chief deputy in the New Castle County Register of Wills office for eight years. He is considered an expert in the field of decedents’ estates, having served on the editorial board for the policy and procedures manual recently issued by the New Castle County Register of Wills, and he is held in high esteem among estate practitioners throughout the State. He has been tasked with conducting a complete review of the Sussex office in order to address deficiencies in its current operations.
As an example, the office currently uses manual procedures The Court of Chancery has recognized the importance of using modern technology and has been a leader in implementing technological improvements, such as the adoption of electronic filing for its civil action docket over ten years ago. During the past several years, the Court has worked with the Register of Wills offices statewide to transition their estate filings to e-filing. Among the benefits of e-filing are the reduction of staff time required for the processing and retention of documents, and the increased accessibility of information. With the Court’s support, e-filing was implemented successfully in New Castle County in 2012 and in Kent County in 2013. To assist with its implementation in Sussex County, in 2014, the Court provided financial resources to the Register of Wills office to help address its archiving backlog. Unfortunately, despite many requests, the Sussex office was unwilling to implement e-filing on its own initiative, necessitating that the Court set a deadline for it to do so.
Now that e-filing has been implemented in the Sussex office, effective July 1, 2015, we are confident the office will realize the efficiencies of transitioning to this system that the other offices have experienced.
The system of having county offices serve as arms of the Court with elected officials can present challenges. Over a decade ago, when the Register in Chancery was operated in the three counties with separately elected officials, the Court experienced some tension in that relationship before those offices were consolidated into a statewide system. But the relationship between the Court and the Sussex County Register of Wills should not be political or partisan.
As you note in your email, the current chief deputy is serving an interim appointment. It is the Court’s hope that at the conclusion of his tenure, improvements to the operations of the Sussex office will have been implemented to better serve the citizens of Sussex County and the State, and that a suitable replacement will assume the duties of chief deputy on a permanent basis at that time to continue that progress. It is also our hope that the Court can work collaboratively with the elected Register to achieve these objectives.
/s/ Andre G. Bouchard, Chancellor
/s/ John W. Noble, Vice Chancellor
/s/ Donald F. Parsons, Jr., Vice Chancellor
/s/ J. Travis Laster, Vice Chancellor
/s/ Sam Glasscock, Vice Chancellor
/s/ Kim Ayvazian, Master in Chancery
/s/ Abigail LeGrow, Master in Chancery
HERE’S MY LETTER BELOW:
“Dear Judge Bouchard:
I am an activist from Sussex County who writes about inequities and concerns of the people. My e-mail network reaches over 6000 people.
The Office of the Register of Wills in Sussex County is in apparent chaos which according to many has put you in a very bad light. I am hearing it from the citizens who are being affected, lawyers representing them, and concerned legislators. Apparently, regardless of having been elected to the office, Register of Wills Cindy Green (R) is legally restrained from appointing her own Chief Deputy of that important county row office which handles the wills of the “dearly departed” and their heirs who receive the estates accordingly.
After the last Chief Deputy retired in December of 2014, a vacancy for the position became available. Instead of accepting Register Green’s recommendation to fill the position (which has been the norm in Delaware for many years), you, the State’s Chief Chancellor, Judge Andre Bouchard, are using an existing law to usurp Cindy Green’s elected office by filling the position with someone of your own choice, someone from outside of the county row office. You are now on your 3rd unsuccessful try. You are continuing to ignore Register Green’s recommendations of qualified personnel that already work in her office. Why???
So far, all of your appointments have been less than competent individuals who are neither qualified nor able to effectively do the job. Instead of promoting someone within the office of the Register of Wills who is familiar with the complicated processes and computer programs, you continue to wreak havoc by your illogical actions. It seems apparent that you Chancellor Bouchard, are not interested in helping the Register of Wills office serve the people of Sussex County efficiently and are using your power to further an unknown agenda? That is the word I am hearing everywhere.
Your first appointment was consistently late to work and totally useless, and ultimately her employment was terminated with your consent after there was a plethora of complaints and a total breakdown within the operation. Your second appointment came from your own office and she never stopped working for you in the Georgetown Court of Chancery office. She half-heartedly “tried out the job” for about a month and a half. She never spent more than 8 hours a week inside the county row office itself. In the end, she refused the position, choosing to stay with the State Court of Chancery. Your latest appointment is apparently a temporary one. It is for an interim period of only six months and you are using a retired Chief Deputy from the New Castle County Register of Wills who is not familiar with the modern computer technology and like the others is only inhibiting the efficiency of the Register of Wills.
With no full time Chief Deputy on staff, mountains of State Chancery Court files have been accumulating and are being left unprocessed within the Register of Wills office ever since last year. Obviously, the system is broken! The appointment should be given to the most qualified person, and the appointment should be made by the elected Register of Wills along with the Chancellor’s confirmation. Why do we have this county row office if the elected official has little or no control over who is hired or fired?
What is mysterious here is that you as the Chief Chancellor are supposed to be all about equity and justice, yet your actions are confusing? With all due respect, why are you not respecting Register Green’s recommendations to promote someone within the office of the Register of Wills for the position of Chief Deputy so that we the people of Sussex County can have an efficient operation in this important office?
This issue is not going to go away, the press is going to get involved, as is the legislature concerning this situation. I urge you to speak with Register Green ASAP and resolve this problem equitably. I would hope you would be anxious to resolve this dilemma in the Register of Wills office so that the people of Sussex County can have their estates settled efficiently and expeditiously without the continuous delays and hassles we are now experiencing for which you are being blamed. I would hope that this clear cut message would resonate with you for some positive action. Please feel free to respond accordingly.
JUDSON Bennett-Coastal Network”