By Tom Hals
WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Leo Strine was confirmed on Wednesday as the first new chief judge in 14 years on Delaware's Chancery Court, which has overseen some of the biggest corporate legal battles of the past 30 years.
The state's senate confirmed Strine to replace William Chandler, who retired on Friday, according to a senate spokeswoman.
Strine joined the bench in 1998 and has built a reputation as a quick thinker, whose rapid-fire courtroom exchanges with attorneys contrast with Chandler's quieter demeanor.
As chief judge, officially known as Chancellor, Strine will assign cases and administer the court.
"This won't be a problem transition," said William Quillen, an attorney with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP and an author of a history of the court. "He's smarter than hell."
No one seems to doubt the application of law will remain constant under the new chancellor.
The Chancery Court decides disputes from the smallest property disagreements to matters involving trusts and wills. The court is best known for its handling of cases based on the state's corporate law, which governs more than half the large listed companies in the United States.
In recent years, the court has been the battleground for cases involving eBay Inc, Dow Chemical Co and Walt Disney Co.
The court is currently dealing with a surge in lawsuits challenging takeover deals.
One frequent critic of the court, law professor Jay Brown of the Sturm College of Law in Denver, said one of Strine's challenges might be sending a signal he would favor greater diversity on the court.
"He needs to address that if he wants to maintain the influence of the court," he said.
Strine's move to chancellor will open a vice chancellor seat, which is expected to be filled by Sam Glasscock, continuing the court's line up of five white male judges.
The state's supreme court, which handles appeals from Chancery, has one female judge, Carolyn Berger, who is also the only woman to have served on the Chancery Court.
"That's very unbalanced," said Brown, who also noted many of the judges come from the defense bar.
Brown said Strine could help change that in his role as the face of the court. He could send messages through the opinions he writes and in the speeches he often gives to convey that diversity is an important issue to be addressed, said Brown.
Strine did not return a message left with his office seeking a comment.
The history of the Chancery Court dates to 1792 and Quillen noted it had a role in one of the defining civil rights cases in U.S. history.
Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, in which the Supreme Court swept aside segregated schools, was a combination of four cases. Three were appeals against lower courts that upheld segregation and the fourth stemmed from a Chancery Court ruling that integrated Delaware's education system.
(Reporting by Tom Hals; editing by Andre Grenon)