New vice chancellor says change is for Washington, not Delaware.
In a special session Sept. 22, the Delaware Senate confirmed the appointment of Wilmington attorney James Travis Laster as a vice chancellor of the state’s Court of Chancery.
He was the most noteworthy of several nominees for judicial and other state administrative posts confirmed by the Senate after a brief afternoon hearing.
Laster is a founding partner of the firm Abrams & Laster and has practiced corporate law for more than a dozen years.
Gov. Jack Markell tapped Laster, a Republican, to fill the Chancery Court seat vacated by former Vice Chancellor Stephen P. Lamb, who retired when his 12-year term expired July 28.
Since the outgoing judge is a Republican, Markell was required by the state constitution to appoint as his replacement a member of the same party to preserve political balance on the court.
During the hearing on his appointment before the Senate Executive Committee, Laster said he feels properly qualified for the job despite having never sat on the bench.
“For the past 13 years the vast majority of my practice has been before the Court of Chancery,” he said, adding that he understands not only the legal precepts that guide the court, but also the procedures and practices under which it operates.
“What the Court of Chancery does is very different from other courts, the legal questions are of a particular nature,” he said. “There is not a lot of correspondence between other courts and the Court of Chancery.”
The court, which has jurisdiction over cases involving businesses, contracts, trusts and other financial matters, is often cited as the leading authority on corporate law worldwide.
In response to a question from Senate President Pro Tem Anthony J. DeLuca, D-Varlano, Laster said he would work to preserve the court’s status as a model, even when its decisions conflict with trends in the federal judiciary.
Laster told the committee that, even in light of the bad feelings the public and politicians may have towards corporate America and its conduct before and during the recession, the Court of Chancery must hold its ground and remain fair and reasonable.
“A lot of people are hurting and are angry, they’ve lost a lot of money, it’s justifiable,” he said. “I think there’s a culture in Washington that says, whatever happens we have to change something.”
While some are quick to accuse Delaware and the Court of Chancery of leaning on the side of corporate interests, Laster said the court must prove that it is and has always been fair.
“We have to stick to what got us to a point of preeminence,” he said. “We have to make sure that we’re not labeled a pro-management state, we are a balanced state.”
Ostroski confirmed as Family Court commissioner
Another major appointee confirmed by the Senate was Janell S. Ostroski, who Markell tapped to become a New Castle County Family Court commissioner.
Ostroski spent several years in private family-law practice before working to assist court appointed special advocates, who act on behalf of children in cases of abuse, foster care disputes and other situations where parents or guardians cannot or will not assist.
When asked by the Executive Committee what rules or laws she would like to see changed in relation to Family Court, Ostroski gave an answer that drew praise from the panel.
Sens. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, and Nancy Cook, D-Kenton, both were pleased with Ostroski’s plan to reform penalties for those who fail to pay child support.
“Rather than the state paying for them to be incarcerated for not paying their child support, we could institute an ankle bracelet system where they don’t have their freedom, but they don’t become a burden to society,” she said.
All six of the governor’s appointments were confirmed by the Senate, as well as three reappointments.
James Travis Laster, Wilmington: Vice Chancellor, Court of Chancery
Janell S. Ostroski, Newark: Commissioner, New Castle County Family Court
Theresa del Tufo, Dover: Industrial Accident Board
Patricia Wagner, Milford: Harness Racing Commission
Lawrence Talley, Smyrna: Harness Racing Commission
Beverly Bell, Wilmington: Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board
Alan Davis, Chief Magistrate, Justice of the Peace Court
Christopher Bradley, Justice of the Peace
George Staats, Harness Racing Commission
Email Doug Denison at email@example.com.