By Tom Hals
(Reuters) - Myron Steele will retire November 30 as the chief justice of Delaware's Supreme Court, which plays a key role in interpreting U.S. corporate law.
Steele, 68, did not give a reason for his resignation in a letter received on Friday by Governor Jack Markell, a spokeswoman said.
Steele has served as chief justice on the five-member court since 2004 and his 12-year term was set to expire in 2016. His court handles direct appeals from the Court of Chancery, the state's highly respected business court.
Steele was not immediately available for comment.
"He is smart and tough, and he will be sorely missed," said Michael Kelly, a Wilmington attorney with McCarter & English.
Steele carried on a tradition of Delaware judges who regularly attend legal conferences to explain the state's law and promote its courts.
"He is sort of an ambassador of the state really, because what the courts do is so important," said Larry Hamermesh, a professor at Widener University School of Law in Wilmington.
The majority of large U.S. businesses incorporate in the state, in part to gain access to the judiciary, which has a reputation for speed and consistency.
Steele's retirement will likely begin the speculation that Leo Strine, the outspoken chief judge or chancellor of the Court of Chancery, will seek to replace Steele.
Markell said he will request the state's Judicial Nominating Commission begin the process of recommending a replacement before Steele steps down.
Steele has also served on the state's Superior Court and the Court of Chancery, which handles many high-profile business disputes.
(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)