Grover Brown, Special Counsel at GF&M named one of 10 Jurists Who Helped Shape the Delaware Courts

10 Jurists Who Helped Shape the Delaware Court

10 Jurists Who Helped Shape the Delaware Courts



The 1970s to the 1990s were two decades of significant change in the legal system, particularly in the Courts. During this time, it is not hyperbolic to say that “giants” existed on the benches of each of our courts to usher in new areas of case consolidation, technological changes, and legal innovations. Here is a list of ten of those jurists (in no particular order) who helped shape the court system as we know it. We know it is an incomplete list and that there are many others who should be here. 

1. Robert H. Wahl: First Chief Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Chief Judge Wahl presided over decades of great change for the CCP which included employing pre-sentence investigators for the first time and increased jurisdiction over preliminary hearings for felony cases. 

2. William T. Quillen: Justice Quillen served on the Superior Court in the 1960s, became Chancellor of the Court of Chancery in 1973, became an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court in 1978 and later rejoined the Superior Court in 1994. During the decades in question, he distinguished himself as a prolific opinion writer, authoring opinions that developed both criminal law and corporate law. 

3. Vincent A. Bifferato, Sr.: No list of “greats” can exist without Judge Bifferato, a young attorney elevated to judge at just 31, he served for 32 years on that bench, retiring as the New Castle County Resident Judge. Judge Bifferato was the quintessential judge, often a father figure to those who worked for him. He dominated ADR practice for a number of years. 

4. Murray M. Schwartz: Having the courage to address discrimination in Delaware schools, Judge Schwartz handed down a decision (“busing”) that put him at odds with a lot of Delawareans. His impact on the Federal Court and on Delaware cannot be disputed. 

5. Carolyn S. Berger: Another trailblazer, Justice Berger, became the first woman to serve as a vice-chancellor on the Court of Chancery in 1984. Later, she would become the first woman justice on the Delaware Supreme Court. Her ability to rise in a male-dominated profession helped open doors for other women. After her service in Delaware, she was appointed to the International Business Court in Singapore. 

6. Richard S. Gebelein: Appointed to the Superior Court in 1984, Judge Gebelein became a national expert on sentencing guidelines and on development of drug courts and later an international figure, invited to serve as a judge overseeing war crimes cases in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

7. Elwood F. Melson, Jr.: Judge Melson followed his father onto the Family Court bench and served during the 1970s, leaving an amazing legacy known as the Melson Formula, the revered formula for calculating child support in Delaware. 

8. Grover Brown: Chancellor Brown served as a Family Court Judge from 1971-73, and then as a vice-chancellor for the Court of Chancery for nine years, followed by a term as Chancellor for three years. His Chancery decisions rewrote the law of fiduciary duty, shareholder rights and other corporation law. 

9. Joshua W. Martin III: Becoming the first Black Superior Court Judge in the 1980s, Judge Martin led the way for a more diverse court system. He later left the bench to serve as Bell Atlantic’s general counsel. 

10. Roxana C. Arsht: In 1971, Judge Arsht became the first woman ever to serve as a judge in Delaware, appointed to the Family Court. Like Judge Del Pesco and Justice Berger after her, she was an icon for women in a profession that was increasingly becoming a place for women. 

Honorable Mentions: William T. Allen, Bernard Balick, Helen S. Balick, Susan C. Del Pesco, William C. Chandler III, William Duffy, William Marvel, Albert J. Stiftel, Robert D. Thompson, Joseph T. Walsh, Leonard L. Williams. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2023 issue of The Journal of the Delaware State Bar Association, a publication of the Delaware State Bar Association.  Copyright © Delaware State Bar Association 2023.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Reference:  Mark S. Vavala is the Executive Director of the Delaware State Bar Association. He can be reached at