Saltwater Portrait

Gary Traynor takes seat on Delaware’s highest court

Rehoboth resident reflects on 35-year legal career
July 25, 2017

For Delaware's newest Supreme Court justice, adjusting to his new office is still a work in progress.

"I still feel like this is Randy Holland's office," said Justice Gary Traynor.

Holland had been Delaware's longest-serving Supreme Court justice, serving on the bench for 30 years before announcing his retirement in February.

"It's hitting me day by day," Traynor said. "My goal is to never have a case where I haven't mastered the facts and arguments. There's nothing more gratifying as a lawyer and knowing that the judge or judges have taken the time to understand the positions you're putting forth. I just hope I can contribute."

Traynor was nominated to the high court in May and was confirmed by the state Senate a month later. He follows in what has become a line of justices who have taken up residence in Rehoboth Beach, along with former justices Holland and Henry Horsey. A father of three and grandfather of five, Traynor has made Rehoboth his home since 2014.

"What's not to like? I love the beach. Growing up in Dover, I spent a lot of time vacationing down here, even into my adult life. I'm not one of those people who gets down into the crowds. I love the fall, winter and spring. We have a very enjoyable life in Rehoboth," he said.

A seat on the highest court in the state was a surprise for Traynor, who had been with the Public Defender's Office for the last 10 years. In fact, it was while he was working in Delaware Superior Court that he got the call from an old friend, newly elected Delaware Gov. John Carney, telling him he was being nominated for the Supreme Court.

"I'm honored that he's put his trust in me," Traynor said.

Traynor grew up in Dover, and started his legal career there. The state capital was a much different place when he was growing up. "It was much smaller. It maintains a small town feel. I thought it was a great place to grow up. It supported its youth. I was involved in a lot of sports activities," he said.

After graduating from Dover High School, where he played football and first knew Carney, Traynor went to Dartmouth University, as did Carney, and then Traynor went to Delaware School of Law at Widener University.

In 1982, he began his law career in Dover doing criminal law, practicing there until 2000, when he moved to Wilmington to practice commercial litigation. He then moved to Sussex County where he joined the Public Defender's Office, working out of its Superior Court unit. "I've practiced in all three counties," he said with a hint of pride.

Working as a public defender was challenging work, Traynor said, as it involved juggling multiple cases at a time, usually around 50, sometimes more and sometimes less. "It was very fast paced. It's a difficult job. I don't think a lot of people appreciate how difficult it is to engage in that kind of practice."

The job sometimes entails working emotionally charged cases, but Traynor said it is important to remain professional. "You can't remove the emotion from these cases. It's a factor, but at the same time, you have a job to do and you have to retain objectivity and have to be appropriately analytical and make judgments," he said.

Traynor was a history major in college, and he enjoyed writing. While that would not seem to be a stepping stone to a law career, he said he felt he had an aptitude for communicating and an interest in the law followed. He would often find that young lawyers would usually say they like to argue as the reason they got involved in practicing law.

"The longer I practice law the more I've come to understand that's not necessarily a good answer. I think it's more important you can communicate, that you can explain, that you can tell a story and that you can relate to people. That may all be in the service of making an argument, but people who just get up and argue are not necessarily the most persuasive people in the world."

Traynor has just started his work with the Supreme Court, mainly reading legal briefs. The court does not typically hear oral arguments during the summer so he won't get to put the robe on and hear arguments until September.