Delaware ‘Secret’ Court Violates Constitution, Federal Lawsuit Claims

Delaware’s Chancery Court judges were accused of violating the U.S. Constitution by conducting “secret judicial” proceedings, according to a lawsuit filed today in federal court.

The Delaware Coalition for Open Government Inc. filed a lawsuit today in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, challenging a state court program in which businesses settle their disputes privately in front of a Chancery Court judge. The arbitration program is so similar to a regular case that it violates the requirement in the U.S. Constitution that court documents and hearings be public, the lawsuit claims.

“The only difference is that now, these procedures and rulings occur behind closed doors instead of in open courts,” Delaware Coalition attorney David L. Finger said in the complaint.

The program has been used five times and is designed to make it cheaper and faster for businesses to settle their disputes, Kenneth Lagowski, a chancery court administrator, said in an interview.

“It was done for chancery to stay on the cutting edge of alternative dispute resolutions,” Lagowski said. “For the litigants it is a cheaper alternative to a full-blown trial.”

Any ruling from the arbitration program can be appealed to the Delaware Supreme Court, where the case would become public, Lagowski said.

The lawsuit names all five Delaware Chancery Court judges.

The case is Delaware Coalition for Open Government Inc. v. The Honorable Leo E. Strine Jr., 11-01015, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Church in Wilmington, Delaware, at schurch3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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