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Delaware Judges Can’t Hold Secret Arbitration, Court Says

Delaware Chancery Court judges sitting as arbitrators must hold public hearings and can’t exclude the public and news media, a federal judge decided.

The decision, by U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin in Philadelphia, came in a case brought last year by the Delaware Coalition for Open Government against chief Delaware Chancery Court Judge Leo Strine and his four associates over a new practice of designating a judge as an arbitrator before closing the courtroom.

“An arbitrator and a judge perform very different functions,” McLaughlin decided in a 26-page opinion today. “The First Amendment protects a qualified right of access to criminal and civil trials.”

Strine’s office referred calls to Mike Barlow, chief legal counsel for Delaware Governor Jack Markell. Barlow didn’t immediately return a request for comment on the ruling.

David Finger, the attorney who filed the case, said the ruling will strengthen the courts and improve the economy of private arbitration using lawyers and retired judges who are experts in Delaware law.

“I always thought this was a no-brainer,” he said.

The case is Delaware Coalition for Open Government Inc. v. Strine, 11-cv-1015, U.S. District Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

To contact the reporters on this story: Phil Milford in Wilmington, Delaware at pmilford@bloomberg.net; 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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