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Meet Kathaleen McCormick, judge in Elon Musk-Twitter trial

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A lawyer for billionaire Elon Musk had barely begun speaking during a recent hearing when the Delaware judge presiding over Twitter’s lawsuit against Musk abruptly cut her off.

“Skip the rhetoric and go to the meat,” Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick said bluntly.

The judge’s tone that day illuminates the no-nonsense approach she brings as the primary woman to guide Delaware’s 230-year-old Court of Chancery. The court is America’s go-to venue for high-stakes disputes involving a few of the world’s biggest firms, a lot of which call Delaware their legal home.

This court fight between the world’s richest man and the influential social platform could easily have change into a circus, particularly given Musk’s penchant for chaos. That hasn’t happened largely because of McCormick, who’s been a judge for less than 4 years. She has set firm deadlines, reined in over-the-top attorney requests and kept the case moving briskly.

Musk, 51, has been battling Twitter since he announced in July that he desired to scuttle an agreement to accumulate the social media giant for $44 billion. Twitter sued Musk, searching for a court order of “specific performance” directing him to consummate the deal.

Kathaleen McCormick has been a judge for less than 4 years. AP

McCormick recently ordered a short lived halt within the case after Musk indicated that he would go ahead with the transaction, but she also warned that she’s going to schedule a November trial if Musk doesn’t close the deal by Oct. 28.

The judge, whose humble demeanor belies her skilled confidence, doesn’t just like the highlight. After joining the court, McCormick admitted that she didn’t fully appreciate how all the things she wrote or said would receive intense scrutiny.

McCormick now seems unfazed that court observers and legal pundits usually are not only watching her every move, but sometimes pretending to know what she goes to do and why.

“The world could have to attend for the post-trial decision,” she wrote in a September ruling, not directly acknowledging the general public highlight on the case.

Elon MuskElon Musk has been battling Twitter since he announced in July that he desired to scuttle the $4 billion deal.AFP via Getty Images

Humble beginnings

From an early age, McCormick, 43, has demonstrated that she will adapt and persevere when faced with challenges.

She was born in Dover, Delaware’s capital city, and raised together with her two older brothers a number of miles north within the town of Smyrna. Her mother taught English; her father taught history and coached Smyrna High School’s football team.

“Katie” McCormick thought she, too, would change into a teacher, even serving as president of the Delaware Future Educators of America, amongst other student organizations.

McCormick also was a tricky athlete who played fastpitch softball and ran track despite having extreme scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that was apparent from birth and which required her to wear a brace at times. In 1995, when she was 15, McCormick underwent spinal fusion surgery.

Two years later, as a 17-year-old senior, McCormick was the recipient of a scholarship awarded annually to a downstate athlete who had overcome a physical disability. A photograph from the awards banquet that night shows a smiling McCormick, in a white dress with paisley trim, standing between then-US Sen. Joe Biden and former NFL quarterback Joe Theisman.

“Some days were just somewhat harder than others, but I had faith it might all work out for the most effective,” McCormick said on the time, noting that other children she would meet during her hospital trips faced more severe problems.

McCormick became the primary Smyrna High student to attend Harvard University, where she majored in philosophy.

McCormick, with a deep and eclectic interest in music, played in an Irish folk band while in school. She also became involved in a student-run legal aid program that helps low-income people within the Boston area. That have helped pique her interest within the law, leading her to the University of Notre Dame law school.

The Leonard L. Williams Justice Center housing the Court of Chancery in Wilmington, Del.The Leonard L. Williams Justice Center housing the Court of Chancery in Wilmington, Del.AP

McCormick, who has long viewed the law as a path to serve others, spent her summers working in Northern Ireland for firms specializing in human rights work and international conflict resolution. After graduation, she looked homeward, taking a job with the Community Legal Aid Society, where she worked on housing issues.

“Her academic record stood out. She was a Delaware native,” said CLASI executive director Dan Atkins, who recruited McCormick. “That was not typical for us, in order that was cool.”

After two years at CLASI, financial considerations involving the birth of her second child propelled McCormick into private practice. She later admitted that she felt “defeated” by the move because she had desired to pursue a service-oriented path. Still, she developed a passion for business litigation, in addition to for expedited proceedings just like the fast-track schedule she ordered within the Twitter lawsuit.

“Her return to public service with the court is sensible. She’s come full circle,” said Atkins, who noted that, along with corporate litigation, the Court of Chancery also handles equally vital matters equivalent to trusts and estates, guardianships and real estate disputes.

“I bet you she gives those cases every little bit of her attention that she gives the Twitter case,” he said. “I guarantee it.”

McCormick isn’t any humorless legal robot, nonetheless. Within the introduction to her article in a law school journal, she poked fun on the supposed “misspelling” of her first name, Kathaleen, which she shares together with her mother and grandmother. She explained that the weird spelling was attributable to her great-grandmother, not the journal’s staff.

Phone screen displays the Twitter logoMCCormick warned that she’s going to schedule a November trial if Musk doesn’t close the deal by Oct. 28.AFP via Getty Images

On the Chancery Court, where judges sometimes cite historic, literary and even pop-culture references of their rulings, McCormick’s opinions are inclined to be comparatively prosaic and direct. Presented with the chance, nonetheless, she, too, can turn a phrase. A ruling last 12 months in a lawsuit involving the cannabis industry opened with a reference to a Grateful Dead song.

In one other ruling last 12 months, McCormick noted that, “Julia Child is rumored to have once said: ‘A celebration with out a cake is just a gathering.’” In that case, she ordered a personal equity firm to accumulate a cake decorating company despite the fact that the buyers had “lost their appetite” for the deal after signing it. Such an order of specific performance is similar form of relief sought by Twitter against Musk.

The icing on that individual cake? One week after that ruling, McCormick, who was appointed a vice chancellor in 2018 when the court expanded from five judges to seven, was promoted to chancellor.

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