Posted: Oct. 30, 2003
CHANCERY BECOMES A LEGACY COURT
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
The swearing-in ceremony Thursday for Vice
Chancellor Donald F. Parsons Jr. had the air of a merry reunion of
law clerks for Judge James L. Latchum, retired from the U.S.
District Court in Delaware.
It was an atmosphere that was vintage Latchum
-- a no-frills session combining the law with laughter. It got right
to the point and it got done.
Latchum, who served on the federal bench from
1968 to 1983, now has former clerks occupying three of the five
seats on the Court of Chancery -- Chancellor William B. Chandler
III, Vice Chancellor John W. Noble and Parsons.
Not that Latchum's legacy stopped there. One
of the speakers at the investiture was U.S. District Judge Kent A.
Jordan, another of the ex-judge's apprentices.
"He ran one of the most remarkable finishing
schools for young lawyers that has ever been seen anywhere," Jordan
Latchum, now in his 80s, could not attend
because of his health, but he sent a letter and his presence
hovered. It was the essence of a man who was uncomplicated and
unpretentious, pungently and humorously plain-spoken, smitten with
public life and inspirational because of it.
As a judge, Latchum was so comfortable with
himself that Parsons recalled he used to say about the prospect of
being reversed, "It was not his fault if two or three judges on some
higher court made a mistake."
Parsons, 55, of Wilmington, became the 34th
member in the 211-year history of the court. He took his judicial
oath in private last week, and this was the public celebration.
More than 200 judges, lawyers, family members
and other well-wishers attended the ceremony at the New Castle
County Courthouse in Wilmington as Parsons joined Delaware's most
storied court, the bedrock of the corporate law practice that has
given the state an international reputation in legal circles.
Parsons, a past president of the Delaware
State Bar Association, left behind an intellectual property practice
as a partner at Morris Nichols Arsht & Tunnell, one of Wilmington's
most prestigious corporate law firms, to become a judge.
He replaces Jack B. Jacobs,
who moved to the Supreme Court in June. Parsons will serve a 12-year
term, which currently pays $140,200 a year.
For most of the session, the
ex-clerks joked and reminisced. Noble was the senior clerk, working
for Latchum from 1975 to 1977, followed by Chandler from 1976 to
1978, Parsons from 1977 to 1979, and Jordan from 1984 to 1985.
They remembered the time
Latchum became concerned about the sanctity of his chambers after
the publication of The Brethren, an insider look at the U.S.
Supreme Court in the 1970s by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong. Law
clerks were believed to be the source of much of it, so Latchum
disguised his voice, pretending to be a female reporter, and
telephoned his clerks.
Chandler hung up. Noble denied
he even knew Latchum. Parsons asked, "How long do you think the
interview would take?"
Parsons also was ribbed for
the time Latchum was giving jury instructions in a trial in which
one of the parties had a name of Eastern European origin. Latchum
had his secretary type it out phonetically for him, but he still had
difficulties, and afterwards Parsons said to the judge, "You said
that man's name 42 times and never repeated yourself once."
In a more serious moment,
Parsons called his arrival on Chancery a "dream come true." He
confessed, "I cannot help but wonder how I will measure up."
Advice came from Jordan, a
decorous sort who nevertheless released his inner Latchum to tell
Parsons, "As the judge would say, now that you're starting this
important job, don't get it all balled up."
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