By RICHARD THOMPSON
CHARLESTON -- A few weeks ago, the West Virginia Independent Judicial Reform Commission met for the first time.
Chaired by Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the nine-member commission is charged with evaluating our state's judicial system and its current practices.
The new Commission plans to survey the state's attorneys regarding what should be done, and more importantly, hold public hearings throughout the state and ask the public. The Commission has been told to look at a variety of issues, including but not limited to: a merit-based system of judicial selection; judicial campaign finance reforms or reporting requirements; creating an intermediate court of appeals; proposing constitutional amendments; and last, but definitely not least, establishing a court of chancery.
During the 2008 legislative session, I introduced House Concurrent Resolution 20, which called for a study of what are known as courts of chancery. I felt that by creating some kind of business court system, West Virginia would be in a better position to attract and keep businesses of all sizes.
So I was very pleased when Gov. Joe Manchin included the possibility of establishing a chancery court system in his recent executive order creating the Independent Commission on Judicial Reform.
Courts of chancery or "business courts" have been established by states throughout the country to preside over and adjudicate matters of commercial law and complex litigation between businesses.
These courts of chancery date back centuries, but some states still have such systems, including Delaware. While Delaware otherwise has a court system similar to West Virginia's, it is home to a very large percentage of Fortune 500 companies that are attracted by the predictability and speed of the state's chancery court system.
Within such a system, alternative dispute resolution is promoted in order to bring about successful resolution of cases without the parties becoming embroiled in a protracted litigation process. The courts are typically presided over by a judge with extensive knowledge in commercial law and other areas of law affecting businesses and corporations and who can deal with complex litigation. The system allows the judges to utilize technology, such as electronic filing and internet technology, to support case management.
This helps relieve the clogged dockets of circuit courts by separating out those complex cases.
For businesses, these cases can be resolved faster and with less expense than if their cases are tried in courts of general jurisdiction. Chancery Courts are valuable tools for assisting businesses in getting fair, consistent, and timely dispute resolution.
Several states have established this system by legislation, by rule, or by means of a pilot program, and many states are either working to establish or are studying the feasibility of establishing a court of chancery.
There are a variety of options to consider, ranging from a constitutional amendment to changing the state statute to allow for business law masters. Adopting such a system could provide a powerful incentive to help bring new businesses to West Virginia.
I applaud Gov. Manchin for including this proposal in his study of broad systematic judicial reforms. This is a concept that carries the potential to greatly benefit West Virginia's job creation and retention efforts.
I welcome and appreciate your input on these or any other legislative issues. Write to House Speaker Richard Thompson, Building 1, Room 228-M, 1900 Kanawha Blvd. E., Charleston, 25305, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 304-340-3210.
Thompson, D-Wayne, is Speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates.