CHARLESTON - House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson awaits Senate action on a first step toward creating a chancery court where business owners could resolve disputes.

The House on Feb. 8 adopted a resolution Thompson sponsored, asking the joint committee on government and finance to study the benefits of a chancery court.

By voice vote without objection, the House passed the resolution to the Senate.

"I have had a lot of positive feedback from the business community," Thompson, D-Wayne, said in a Feb. 13 interview.

"I have seen business issues take a long time to get through the regular court system," he said.

The study could stand as a framework for legislation next year.

Thompson said he picked up the idea at a conference of House Speakers in Delaware, where chancery courts resolve business disputes.

He said a Delaware chancery court heard a dispute among shareholders of the Disney Company.

"It was a lot of money but they heard it in this little court," he said.

Thompson said changes in courts require constitutional amendment, but he added that other options might arise.

"If this is beneficial," he said, "by statute we could create business law masters and have four or five of them traveling around the state."

He said he hoped legislators would consider allowing business masters to mediate disputes, if both sides agree to mediation.

"A business master could charge for mediation,' he said. "That would help defray the cost of the system."

Thompson said a chancery court statute would establish "first jurisdiction," meaning a dispute within the statute would have to go to chancery court rather than civil court.

He said a chancery court would not hold jury trials.

He said he didn't know when the Senate would take up the resolution.

If the Senate adopts it, he said, a consultant could prepare a report or legislators could conduct their own study at hearings.

He said legislators would look at responses of businesses and judges.

State courts administrator Steve Canterbury already has stated that he looks forward to working on the idea.

A chancery in old England was the office of the king's chancellor. Chancellors resolved disputes in equity, unlike judges who held trials under common law.

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