During a press conference in Wilmington on July 10, Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware announced its new platform to improve the ethics, transparency, and accountability in the state’s government and Chancery Court. The announcement comes on the heals of a report by the Center for Public Integrity which listed Delaware 48th in the nation for transparency and accountability and 46th for judicial accountability.
“Delaware has dropped 10 spots to number 11 according to the Chamber of Commerce in its judicial rankings,” Citizens for Pro Business Delaware Campaign Manager Chris Coffey added.
Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware is made up of more than 2,700 members including employees of the global translation services company TransPerfect, as well as concerned Delaware residents and business executives. The group launched during the court case involving TransPerfect which took place in 2016 and 2017. That case ended in Jan. 2018.
“I think we made some progress. We were a thorn in some folks’ sides,” said Coffey.
The group is now working to improve the Chancery Court process by improving its accountability and transparency. That includes allowing electronic media in the courts and using a randomized wheel spin to pick judges on a case, which is done in other courts including federal court.
“Delaware has no process, which begs questions of fairness. Delaware requires no financial disclosures for judges, nor does it have an ethics arm to investigate corruption,” Coffey said. “We will spend what it takes, likely seven figures, and lead a grassroots and paid media effort to bring the Chancery Court into 2019. Our common sense platform deserves discussion. It’s time to end the old boys clubhouse culture and allow the sunshine in to the First State.”
Coffey said TransPerfect receives monthly bills from the Chancery Court which are sealed and marked private. Coffey said they are told that opening the bills would interfere with the sale process of the company, which ended a year and a half ago.
According to Coffey, a bill was introduced in the Legislature in the last week of session which would require the Chancery Court to itemize all bills.
“There’s no reason the company shouldn’t have access to what they’re paying for,” he said.
Citizens for Pro-Business Delaware’s platform includes the following goals:
- Establishing an independent Office of Inspector General with a degree of jurisdiction over the Chancery Court, which would ensure a rigorous and regular review process for auditing the Chancery Court’s decisions. According to Coffey, Maryland and Pennsylvania have such a process.
- Ensuring that appointed Members of Courts can’t serve on the Court of Judiciary, which has the power of judicial review. Coffey said Delaware Chancery Court judges are currently a part of the Court of Judiciary.
- Ensuring that if a Justice of the Chancery Court appoints a custodian or a receiver to any firm, corporation, or officer of the court for whom they were previously employed or shared business interests with, this conflict must be disclosed and consented to by both parties.
- Requiring that any custodian or receiver appointed by the Delaware Chancery Court itemize and make public a complete list of costs incurred because of acting in that capacity.
- Allowing a camera in the Chancery Court to ensure that a public record exists of the Court’s actions, allowing citizens and good government groups to audit the Court’s actions and deliberations to make sure they honor justice and transparency.
“We plan on supporting the radio and TV associations and support their efforts to get cameras and audio in the courthouse,” said Coffey, who added that Chancery Court routinely seals the courthouse during cases.
- Requiring ‘wheel spin’ in the Chancery Court so that Chancery Court Chancellors cannot select cases based on their own self-interest. Coffey said Delaware is one of a few states in which a judge can select their own case.
- Requiring financial disclosure by Delaware’s judges so the public can see the income they receive outside their judicial salaries, including investments, business and charitable affiliations and gifts.
The press conference was led by Miranda Wessinger & Chris Coffey of Citizens for a Pro-Business Delaware, who were joined by Cindy Green, Sussex County Register of Wills; Donna White, a former Chancery Court employee; and 100 TransPerfect employees.
Coffey believes this platform will allow the state to have a conversation about the current system and make some common sense reforms.
“It’s really, really hard to do anything in Delaware,” Coffey said. “I think in most states there is more transparency than there is in Delaware.”
The group plans to partner with good government groups and is going out to events in the state to get the word out. Residents will be invited to sign a petition and are asked to reach out to legislators and fellow citizens.
“We’ve had a good response so far but it’s going to be really hard. We’re going to at least make this issue that is talked about,” said Coffey. “We’re in it for the long haul. I said that during the TransPerfect case. We don’t want it to happen to other companies.”
Coffey said he plans to bring out people from other companies who took part in Chancery Court and felt it was unfair.