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Increasing court cases call for more support staff in Delaware courts

Tom Byrne/Delaware Public Media

Delaware’s judicial branch is requesting more support staff to improve efficiency in the courts.

Delaware’s Chief Justice Collins Seitz says his courts are continuing to see an upward trend in cases each year. The number of judicial proceedings jumped from 991 in 2018 up to almost 1,300 in 2021.

On top of a rising number of cases, and more of those litigants seeking an expedited process, the state Supreme Court manages to get by with just one or two law clerks assigned to each judge.

Seitz says in neighboring states, and at the federal level judges often are assigned up to six clerks to help with research and writing.

“With our growing docket — and with the increasing docket from the Court of Chancery, which works its way up to us because many of those cases are appealed; a very cost effective way, rather than adding judicial positions and more judicial officers is to add law clerks, cause those law clerks make the judges more efficient,” Seitz said.

At his branch’s budget hearing with the Joint Finance Committee last week, Seitz says adding an additional clerk for each Supreme Court justice would significantly help with case management.

Seitz makes this case despite those positions not being included in the Governor’s recommended budget. He says this has been something the Supreme Court could have used for years, but with the increased caseload, it’s become a higher priority.

He’s also seeking more help at the Court of Chancery.

“It is no exaggeration to say that they work at an unhealthy and unsustainable pace,” he said. “The chancellor and I are working on some things to help with that; maybe it’s some shift in jurisdiction and things like that. But what we would ask you to seriously consider, which was not in the governor’s recommended budget, is another master position.”

Seitz is talking about another Master in Chancery position, who helps provide final rulings on Court of Chancery matters, and presides over disputes involving land deeds.

Seitz says nearly $300 thousand for that position and support staff would help reduce the burden on current chancellors. He says this excessive workload poses a risk of turning businesses away from the First State.

The court is asking for over $4 million in added funding next year, including around $1.5 million not recommended by the governor.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.