CHARLESTON - The state House Judiciary Committee has advanced plans to create business courts in the state.
The committee sent House Bill 4352 to the full House of Representatives for consideration Thursday. It would allow the state Supreme Court to create business courts in jurisdictions with more than 60,000 residents.
"By creating this court division, West Virginia is sending a clear, strong message that this state is a welcoming environment for businesses," said House Speaker Rick Thompson, a Democrat.
"In the 15 states that have business courts, there has been a very positive response from the business community."
Thompson said the courts would ease the pressure on courts with heavy criminal and civil caseloads and provide businesses with specialized judges.
Several groups have complained about how businesses are treated in West Virginia's courts system, which has no intermediate appellate courts.
The American Tort Reform Association annually picks the state as one of its "Judicial Hellholes" in its report.
Rep. Tim Miley, a Democrat and Judiciary chairman, is the lead sponsor of the bill, which was approved by the committee unanimously.
The bill has eight other Democratic sponsors and two Republican.
They are Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia; Bonnie Brown, D-Kanawha, John Frazier, D-Mercer; Mark Hunt, D-Kanawha; Tim Manchin, D-Marion; Harold Michael, D-Hardy, Clif Moore, D-McDowell, Bill Wooton, D-Raleigh, Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; and John Ellem, R-Wood.
"I think the background of the members who wanted to sponsor this legislation – attorneys and business owners, both Democrat and Republican – speaks to its value to both the legal and business communities," Miley said.
"We see this as a great opportunity to improve both the state's business climate and the efficiency of our courts."
Chief Justice Robin Davis, to the displeasure of the state Chamber of Commerce, recently said the state has no need for intermediate appellate courts.
Thompson noted that the business court system has helped Delaware become home to 63 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
"Such business courts are best suited for complex commercial cases, which can then be better managed and mediated," he said.