Gov. Joe Manchin, seated, signs House Bill 4352 into law on May 10 allowing for the creation of new business courts. Behind him are, from left, Tina Sevy, director of legislative analysis for the state Supreme Court; House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne; and state Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha. (Photo courtesy of the governor's office)
CHARLESTON –- A bill that paves the way for a new business court system in West Virginia has been signed into law.
Last week, House Speaker Rick Thompson joined Gov. Joe Manchin for the signing of House Bill 4352, which allows the state Supreme Court to establish a business court docket within the existing circuit court system, much like the court establishes separate docket systems for the management of criminal cases, civil cases, juvenile cases, abuse and neglect cases, and other specialized dockets.
"This law sends a powerful message to the business community that this state is business friendly," Thompson said. "I strongly believe that this legislation will result in both a more efficient court system and an improved statewide business climate."
The legislation, taking into account the complex nature of litigation involving technical commercial issues, lays the groundwork for the creation of a separate and specialized court docket within the state's most populated court circuits.
Thompson has long advocated the creation of such a business court system.
Currently, about 15 states offer a court of chancery or some other form of business court to manage and address disputes in equity and complex litigation involving business and technological issues, including the bordering states of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio.
Such courts of chancery date back centuries.
Delaware, which has had a chancery system for over 200 years, is home to 63 percent of the Fortune 500 companies, Thompson has noted.
"This law allows the state Supreme Court to set up business courts in multi-judge districts by allocating existing circuit court resources and personnel, without requiring additional judicial positions," Thompson said. "I have championed this initiative because I see it as a great opportunity to help businesses and potentially create jobs, despite the weakened economy."
While it might take a while for the idea of business court to catch on, Thompson said it is worth it.
"It means a lot for our state to compete in today's society," he said. "Expedited rulings are important to businesses.
"The longer it is up and running, the more it will show how important the business court is."
Thompson said there are many ways a business court will help the state. The biggest benefit would be attracting new businesses to the state.
"We need businesses in the state for jobs, but we also need them to improve our infrastructure," he said. "We've weathered this financial crisis better than most states, and we want to show businesses that right now is a good time to come to West Virginia."
But he said there still is more work to do.
"We need to make the tax structure less confusing, and we're already phasing out the business income tax," Thompson said. "We need to continue to fund and improve our infrastructure and education.
"I'm very pleased this business court bill has been signed into law. Now, we need to see it through and see if it does what it is intended to do."