Top Judge on Delaware Business Court to Leave

By | April 25, 2011

The chief judge of Delaware’s Chancery Court, whose rulings in cases involving Walt Disney Co, Hewlett Packard Co. and eBay Inc. made him one of the most powerful arbiters of U.S. business disputes, has announced plans to step down.

William B. Chandler III, the court’s chancellor, will retire from the bench as of June 17, his assistant said Monday.

One of the Delaware court’s four vice-chancellors — Leo Strine, Donald Parsons, J. Travis Laster or John Noble — will likely succeed him. Chandler was a vice chancellor for eight years before becoming chief judge in 1997.

Delaware Chancery Court is an important venue for litigating business disputes because a large number of Fortune 500 companies incorporate in the state.

“There’s a time when all judges need to let younger people step up and take on the burdens,” Chandler, 60, said in an interview with Reuters. `”It’s a good opportunity for me to let someone new take the reins of this court.”

He said he will pursue opportunities in the private sector. He will maintain an office in Delaware.

One of Chandler’s biggest rulings was his 2006 decision finding that Walt Disney Co.’s board did not breach its duties when ex-President Michael Ovitz walked away with $140 million in compensation after he was ousted after 14 months on the job.

However, the judge criticized the Disney board and then-Chief Executive Michael Eisner in his ruling, saying Eisner had “enthroned himself as the omnipotent and infallible monarch of his personal Magic Kingdom.”

In the Hewlett-Packard Co. case, Chandler allowed the computer maker’s 2002 purchase of rival Compaq Computer Corp. to go forward.

He rejected an attempt by ousted HP director Walter Hewlett to block the $18 billion deal. Hewlett had claimed information about the Compaq merger was withheld from shareholders, but Chandler ruled the company did not mislead investors.

Last September, Chandler issued a mixed decision in a dispute between eBay Inc. and Craigslist. He reinstated eBay’s 28.4 percent stake in Craigslist, but allowed the classifieds site to keep eBay off its board of directors.

In February, he ruled on Air Products & Chemicals Inc.’s hostile $5.9 billion bid for Airgas Inc. Chandler ruled Airgas properly employed a so-called poison pill against Air Products’ bid, which the company found inadequate. After the ruling, Air Products ended its effort to take over the company.

(Reporting by Moira Herbst; editing by Andre Grenon)

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