Thompson

Canterbury

CHARLESTON – Running for judge sounds important, and running for magistrate sounds cool, too. But West Virginians soon may run for Lord High Chancellor.

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, wants legislators to consider setting up courts of chancery, following seven centuries of English tradition.

"Chancery" in medieval times meant the office of the king's Lord High Chancellor.

The chancellor resolved disputes involving unique questions of fairness, or equity, rather than general disputes under common law that a judge would hear.

Thompson seeks something along that line, focusing on business. His chancery courts would adjudicate matters of commercial law and complex litigation between businesses.

He sponsors House Resolution 20, requesting a report and recommendations from the joint committee on government and finance next year.

A floor vote was scheduled for Feb. 8.

"Courts of chancery promote and utilize alternative dispute resolution to bring about successful resolution of cases without the parties becoming embroiled in a protracted litigation process," Thompson's resolution declares.

"Courts of chancery have allowed for complex cases to be resolved faster and with less expense than cases tried in courts of general jurisdiction," Thompson writes.

He finds it "worthy of consideration by this Legislature as to whether implementation of a court of chancery would improve our court system and business climate."

The Supreme Court of Appeals endorses the idea.

State Courts Administrator Steve Canterbury said his office looks forward to examining the issue with legislators.

"It's far reaching," he said. "It would be a serious departure from our current way of doing business."

He said his office would provide technical assistance and helpful information.

"I believe the Speaker should be congratulated not only for embracing the idea but for taking a measured approach so all the stakeholders can be heard and the Legislature can take a measured, considered approach before drafting any legislation," Canterbury said.

In England, chancery courts date back as far as Canterbury's name.

Subjects of a king could present petitions to him under common law, but their petitions passed through the hands of his chancellor.

A chancellor acted as keeper of the king's conscience and custodian of his great seal.

In 1280, Edward I empowered the chancellor to resolve the petitions in his name.

Under Edward III, proceedings in the chancery assumed a judicial character.

The chancellor surrendered his role in 1873, when Parliament reorganized the judiciary and converted chancery court into a division of a new High Court of Justice.

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