The Spectacle That Was the TransPerfect Hearing

On January 18, 2017, along with around 160 other viewers, we caught the livestream (the replay is available here) of the oral arguments in the TransPerfect case (Shawe v. Elting). It was as riveting as any courtroom drama: tough judge, articulate, word-perfect lawyers, and vivid facial expressions from the gallery.

The court heard Phil Shawe’s side first; Elting’s followed. Shawe lawyer David Goldstein questioned whether the court had the power to force the sale of TransPerfect. “Did the court err in choosing that option as a first resort?” Goldstein said, adding the forced sale “unnecessarily disturbed settled expectations of Delaware law.”

According to Goldstein, the court’s requirement that Shawe sell his shares was specifically designed to provide Elting with a windfall. The word “windfall” roused Delaware Chief Justice Leo Strine three minutes into the livestream. Strine clearly objected to the word as he interrupted Goldstein.

Elting, who was in the livestream camera’s line of sight, could clearly be seen reacting to the goings-on; alternately pursing her lips, smirking, rolling her eyes, emphatically nodding her head, and smiling.

Ten minutes into Goldstein’s argument, Chief Justice Strine continued to skewer the bemused lawyer, who was being asked to explain why Shawe “stalked Ms Elting on a plane.” Was Shawe on the plane to Paris with Elting because he had a sudden hankering for a croissant or had he a legitimate business reason, Strine demanded to know. Goldstein offered an explanation, which Strine appeared not to believe.

It was only the initial salvo in a series of interruptions by Strine, which seem designed to cut Shawe’s stellar legal team down to size. Delawareonline wrote that “fireworks” capped the hearing, with Alan Dershowitz (of OJ Simpson trial fame) “rushing to the podium and shouting that he had ‘an ethical obligation not to concede.’”

To which Strine replied like a stern headmaster, “Mr Dershowitz! Mr Dershowitz!” Strine stared down celebrity lawyer Dershowitz until he relented, by which time the other four justices had already walked out of the courtroom.

One America News Network (OAN) noted how the TransPerfect case has generated media attention uncharacteristic of boardroom battles or takeover disputes. The same article said that, before the hearing, a dozen TransPerfect employees held a protest outside the court with signs that read, “Don’t let courts control our companies.”

As Slator reported on January 16, the Shawe legal team’s latest argument hinges on the “Takings Clause” of the US Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which states that the government cannot expropriate or “take” private property without just compensation.

The Delaware Supreme Court will keep the language industry and, increasingly also a wider audience, in suspense for a maximum of three months. A final written decision is typically issued within 90 days.

The OAN report quoted Dershowitz as saying, when asked if he would appeal the case to the US Supreme Court if Shawe lost in Delaware, “I assure you that we will.”