Delaware’s Former Chief Justice Leo Strine vs. James Martin — An Issue of Judicial Ethics?
I have written extensively about the TransPerfect case, how it was adjudicated, appearances of impropriety and conflicts of interest that I clearly perceive to exist, and the apparent, and in my view, incestuous situation that has developed over the years in Delaware’s “Good Ole Boy” legal system, seemingly protected by the Delaware Bar Association and the Legislature alike.
I have even written an article about what I think a good Delaware Judge should be like and the qualifications needed to be fair and effective. Frankly, I do not think Andre Bouchard should be a Chancellor, nor should Leo Strine have been a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. For the record, Bouchard and Strine were former business partners in the infamous Skadden Arps firm. One thing for sure, the job of any Judge whether in Delaware or elsewhere is to be fair and impartial. Anything less than that is a form of corruption in my opinion. Never should lawyers, who are friends and former business partners of the presiding Judge, be allowed to enrich themselves through litigation and biased rulings.
That is what I think happened in the TransPerfect case and it is still going on: The purpose of Delaware’s Chancery Court is to dispense equity and fairness, never to enhance those who are or have been personally connected to the Judge. Similarly, Delaware’s Supreme Court, where appeals are considered is also supposed to be unbiased with the recusal of Justices who have possible conflicts of interest. Indeed, I have concluded that conflicts of interest from what I have observed in the TransPerfect case both in the Chancery and in the Delaware Supreme Court might actually exist.
Having observed what I believe are Andre Bouchard’s appearances of impropriety as Delaware’s Chancellor, I was struck and dismayed by the arrogance and rudeness exhibited by Chief Justice Strine in his treatment of esteemed litigator Alan Dershowitz, who was representing Shirley Shawe in the TransPerfect appeal. The upholding of Bouchard’s subjective ruling by Strine et al was flawed in my view and was seemingly an obvious rubber stamp for Bouchard’s unprecedented sanctions and biased rulings. Justice Karen Valihura in her dissent called the Chancery Court’s ruling an illegal “Taking” under the 5th amendment. Regardless, I was concerned by Strine’s apparent superior attitude and in my view pompous administration of his position.
What constitutes conflicts of interest and the need for recusal by the Judge in any legal proceeding? From the National Legal Institute, I was able to glean the following: 1) Any justice, judge, or magistrate shall disqualify himself in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned. 2) Where he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, or personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding. 3) Where in private practice, he served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, or a lawyer with whom he previously practiced law and served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter, or the judge or such lawyer has been a material witness concerning it. 4) Where he has served in governmental employment and in such capacity participated as counsel, adviser or material witness concerning the proceeding or expressed an opinion concerning the merits of the particular case in controversy.
I was recently contacted by Mr. James Martin, who was once a New Jersey lawyer. He apparently became a victim of an accident while riding his bike, lost his cases in lower courts and claims he was unable to appeal, because of Leo Strine’s conflicts of interest and failure to legally recuse himself. I interviewed Mr. Martin and to be absolutely sure to present his complaint accurately I insisted he give me his story in writing which I have preserved and documented in my archives.
According to Martin, to put it simply, Leo Strine failed to recuse himself when he should have, due to the fact that when he was serving as a government lawyer for then-Governor Carper, there were apparently overlapping issues involving the request for paneling temporary jurists to hear his appeal, because the official justices had already recused themselves. As I understand it, Martin feels that Strine prevented that from happening, creating an ongoing conflict of interest later on, when his appeal was tabled by Strine who refused to recuse himself when presented with absolute documentation of the legal grounds for his recusal. Mr. Martin sent me Strine’s official comment: “Indeed, I had no recollection of the 1996 correspondence until Mr. Martin’s motion brought it up, and even reviewing the letter [which bears my signature] now did not restore any memory of it. I am therefore satisfied that I can hear this matter free of bias.”
Well, folks, I say why not recuse himself and give Martin the benefit of any doubt?? The law is clear in that if there is any possible disparity or doubt, the Judge should recuse. Not Strine, who chose instead to be an ongoing negative force in Martin’s life. In the most recent case, Mr. Martin renewed the Motion to Recuse CJ Strine while he was active earlier this year on the Supreme Court of Delaware. He issued no decision on the Motion, even though it was filed within a few days after the appeal was docketed, and before any briefing. Instead, the case was closed, and the issue about whether a Motion to Recuse may be disregarded, without abridging a party’s due process, constitutional right, is currently docketed in the Supreme Court, at “No. 19-674.”
Folks, the bottom line is, according to James Martin, and if his forwards to me are accurate, Leo Strine had a duty to recuse himself. Indeed, by not doing so he created an unworthy and unjust situation for James Martin. Interestingly, this case is still before the Delaware Supreme Court and it is my understanding there is no statute of limitations. It is also my understanding that this case is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest pending case in U.S. history? The bottom line here is that a man who was entitled to a fair hearing and a fair appeal apparently did not get one? Strine, in his apparent arrogance, if indeed Mr. Martin is correct in his claims, did not allocate proper justice.
Leo Strine has recently resigned from the Supreme Court, six years before his term is up. Perhaps, all things considered, it was for the best and I say good riddance. I would be happy to see Andre Bouchard depart as Chancellor as well. As for Mr. Martin, good luck with your pending appeal. Maybe under Chief Justice Seitz, you will receive your long-awaited equity.
As always your comments are welcome and appreciated.