Meet 7 Delaware Lawyers
Get to know some local attorneys' stories, from immigration issues to healthy adversaries.
We are a nation of laws—and they seem to get more complicated every day. With constant changes in healthcare, immigration policies, taxation and other areas that affect us on a daily basis come a need for expert help. Meet some of the people who can help most. (Find the 2017 Top Lawyers list here.)
Attorney Nina Qureshi stays on top of the latest legal and political debates over immigration to determine how her clients could be affected.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
The Immigration Factor
by Roger Morris
As the national debate about who should be able to enter the United States and who should be allowed to stay intensifies, Delaware’s immigration lawyers are busy keeping up with the legal and political debates and how they will affect their clients.
Two of the best are Wilmington-based immigration attorneys Nina Qureshi and Carrie Huang, who each have a private law practice.
“After the presidential election, there was a big increase in phone calls, mainly from people worried about the status of their green cards,” which allow people from other countries to work in the United States as permanent residents, says Qureshi. “Undocumented immigrants have also been worried—although things have calmed down a little.”
Representing such clients, especially those detained by federal officials for possible deportation, is an especially difficult task for both attorney and detainee. Qureshi explains those arrested are taken to a special prison in York, Pennsylvania, run by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The court is in a special facility adjoining the York prison.
Huang, in addition to her education and legal training, knows immigration issues firsthand. A native of China, she worked for the Supreme Court in Hunan Province before coming to the United States, where she earned her law degree from Washington University in St. Louis.
As the immigration debate continues in the government and the courts, “it’s unfortunate, but no one knows what is going on,” Huang says. “People are worried that a traffic ticket will put them in danger of not being able to return if they take a trip overseas.”
Because the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, or Dreamers Act, is uncertain, “those who are not in DACA are concerned about whether or not they should apply,” and thus be legally identified about their undocumented status, Huang says.
Regardless of the need by some Delaware employers for both skilled and unskilled foreign workers, green card holders question whether they should apply now for citizenship, which they can achieve after five years.
“You can lose your green card status and have to leave,” Qureshi points out, “but you can’t be asked to leave once you are a citizen.”
As members of the Delaware Bar, Bart Dalton (left) and Rich Galperin routinely face off from opposite sides of the courtroom. Away from work, the good friends like to meet at another kind of bar.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
by Natalie Pompilio
Though they’re both medical malpractice attorneys, they enjoy an unlikely friendship. One enjoys being the center of attention. The other seeks the sidelines. One is reserved in his arguments. The other admits to being emotional, sometimes a bit theatrical.
Yet perhaps the biggest difference between them is this: Rich Galperin represents hospitals and medical professionals. Bart Dalton stands for their accusers.
The adversaries routinely face off from opposite sides of the conference table or the courtroom. And both are tenacious advocates, considered among the state’s top lawyers in their practice areas, unafraid to fight for their clients and their causes.
Yet here they were on a Friday, on the patio at Harry’s Seafood Grill in Wilmington, sharing courthouse gossip, swapping stories about their grandchildren and teasing each other as only good friends can.
“I’m glad you said you have a big ego,” says Galperin, who often represents Christiana Health Care System. “I say you have a big personality. I carefully chose those words.”
“As opposed to you,” counters Dalton, “who has a big ego with a small personality.”
“I’m as humble as they come,” Galperin says.
Admits Dalton, “I have a huge ego.”
“Litigation is an adversarial process,” says Dalton, who helms his eponymous firm in Wilmington, which has four other attorneys. “But if you revere the law like he does, and I do, that’s important. That’s where the friendship came from.”
Says Galperin, “Bart is an extremely talented adversary, but also someone I very much look forward to seeing.”
They’ve been meeting up like this for more than 20 years, not every Friday these days but as often as they can. Neither is sure of how they met—probably facing off in court, both agree, but they disagree over which of them probably won the case or when they had their first Friday happy hour. In earlier years, they were often joined by other lawyers, but now it’s usually just the two of them.
Their relationship is possible, they say, because of the nature of the legal profession in the First State. You do your best legal work, Dalton says, “but there is an underlying culture of collegiality that was established long before I became a member of the bar.”
“We do cases together, have very intense depositions of each others’ witnesses and there’s nothing personal about it,” says Galperin, a partner with Morris James, a firm with six offices in the state. “We’ve developed a relationship where we don’t file papers just to cause trouble and slow the process and be obstructionists.”
Both lawyers say cooperation benefits both sides. Dalton estimates his office accepts one out of every 100 cases. In 2016, about 75 medical malpractice cases were filed statewide.
“When I get a case from Bart, I don’t question how much he’s thought this through,” Galperin says. “I know he’s thought it through from filing to verdict.
“When we settle cases, our relationship makes it a much more fair process. When I tell Bart, ‘That is all the money we have,’ he trusts me. And when he tells me, ‘My client won’t take less than such-and-such an amount,’ I trust he’s telling me the truth. We get things done at a much higher level than a vast majority of lawyers who do our jobs.”
“People don’t expect lawyers on opposite sides of an issue to be friendly,” says Terry Strine, head of Leadership Delaware, which trains rising leaders. “Rich and Bart are genuinely collegial. They’re at the top of their profession and they feel that when they are up against each other, they’re up against the best.”
Medical malpractice cases are very difficult and emotional for both sides. Dalton represents people who have often suffered a serious injury or the loss of a loved one. Many of Galperin’s clients have devoted their lives and careers to helping others. The tension and energy affect the lawyers, too.
“It is painful at times. You just care about your clients so much,” Dalton says. “I think our friendship grew out of the fact that I appreciate his side has emotion to it, too. These are very hard cases, and they can be hard to get through. There’s not an advantage to either of our clients to make it harder on each other.”
Sussex County-based attorney Stephen A. Spence represents small and medium-sized Delaware businesses.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
Open for business
by Pam George
The passing of the Delaware General Corporation Law in 1899 turned the state into a destination for big businesses. More than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies are incorporated here. But the state is also hospitable to small businesses. Just ask Stephen A. Spence, an attorney with Baird Mandalas Brockstedt LLC.
Spence, a Delaware native, represents small and medium-sized Delaware businesses in disputes and litigation related to contracts, leases, real estate and other commercial matters. And he does so from a base in Sussex County, which is liberally laced with small companies. Most of his clients are corporations or limited liability companies that have formed in Delaware.
No matter a company’s size, every business in Delaware benefits from its much-lauded court system, he says. “It runs very well. It’s one of the big reasons why companies who are operating outside of Delaware want to be Delaware entities.”
Delaware courts have a reputation for enforcing contracts and the parties’ expectations, and they’re celebrated for making decisions quickly, says Spence, who was a law student extern for Superior Court Judge Joseph R. Slights III, then a law clerk for Delaware Supreme Court Justice James T. Vaughn Jr., then the president judge of Superior Court.
Spence’s praise applies not only to the Court of Chancery, which specializes in business law, but also to the Superior Court, which added the Complex Commercial Litigation Docket in 2010 to offer a new advantage to those located or incorporated in the state.
Since Delaware is so small, judges and lawyers rub elbows in the courtroom and boardroom, as well as in the community—especially in Sussex County. “Most litigation is handled between the parties and amongst the lawyers,” says Spence, a Cape Henlopen High School graduate. Delaware lawyers are careful to act appropriately and not attack each other’s reputation during a case. “It makes litigation efficient and more likely to produce a settlement.”
Delaware’s size also makes it easier to find the answers a small-business owner needs, whether they turn to a local legislator, a chamber of commerce or a county office. “Small-business owners don’t feel like they’re going to get lost in the shuffle or that they’re just another number,” Spence says. If finding the answers means going to Dover or Wilmington, it’s not a long trip.
Though Spence works mainly in Lewes, the University of Delaware graduate is well acquainted with New Castle County. His firm also has offices in Georgetown, Wilmington and Dover.
As more businesses open to serve the influx of retirees, the demand for attorneys in Sussex County is high, and the work is often varied. Nevertheless, the lifestyle is more laid-back. Take note, lawyers looking for a work-life balance. “You can’t reach most lawyers on a Friday after 4 p.m.,” he says. “It’s not going to happen. If you’re looking for an easier lifestyle close to nature, Sussex County is a nice place to live.”
Delaware Family Court Judge Robert Coonin (from left), Family Court Chief Judge Michael Newell and attorney Richard K. Herrmann hope that the court’s eCourtroom model will spread nationally.//Photo by Leslie Barbaro
A courtroom for the people
by Mark Nardone
In a day when people often argue—even threaten—via text messages, email or social media postings, being able to see the chain of communication in a court of law is more important than ever. Enter Family Court’s new eCourtroom in the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington.
The courtroom, outfitted in mere days with eight Microsoft Surface Pro tablet computers, a wireless router, a printer and a document camera on a secure network—all at a cost of about $11,500—launched in September. Its proponents expect that it will improve Family Court’s service as it becomes a model for courts across the country.
“People’s behavior in Family Court hasn’t changed,” says Chief Judge Michael Newell. Nor have the rules of evidence. But technology—and the way it is used—marches ever forward. Being able to see a personal threat or communication made electronically, other examples of cyberbullying or videos made on smartphones is important to the court—and to litigants who want to feel they are being treated fairly.
Ease of use was a top priority when designing the network. In other Family Court courtrooms, anyone who wants to present a chain of text messages, for example, must approach the bench, where the judge reads the chain on the device, shows it to the other litigants or their lawyers, then transfers it to another device to be printed for the evidence file.
In the new eCourtroom, a litigant can simply place his or her mobile phone under the document camera—a sort of digital overhead projector—which broadcasts it onto the Surface Pro screens to be seen by all. The judge can print a screenshot from the bench, then enter it into evidence. That digital evidence can be stored on a thumb drive instead of a large box full of paper.
“Technology creates efficiencies,” says attorney Richard K. Herrmann, chair of the Delaware Supreme Court’s Commission on Law & Technology, a key force behind the new eCourtroom. Efficiency is key in a court that saw 50,000 filings last year.
Other high-tech courtrooms exist, Herrmann says, but none that was installed at such low cost. As Judge Robert Coonin troubleshoots the system and educates its users over the next few months, the court will publish stories about its experience in professional journals. Judges across the country will know all about it by January. Herrmann, Newell and Coonin have high hopes that the model will spread.
“We’re really hoping the bar buys into this,” Newell says. “This court needs to lead the way. At its unveiling on Tuesday, Sept. 12, the lawyers in attendance embraced the new concept and are anxious to put the eCourtroom to use.”