CHARLESTON -- A North Carolina judge says West Virginia already has the makings of a good business court system.

"A business court requires transparency, getting people involved and educating the public on what the court will do," said Ben F. Tennille, Chief Special Superior Court Judge for Complex Business Cases in North Carolina. "Now all you need to ask yourself is what is important to you and what you want your business court to do with that."

Tennille, who is a national expert in business courts, spoke Nov. 12 during the West Virginia Business Court Committee's public forum in the House of Delegates Chamber.

He recommended that if West Virginia does establish such a court, the panel should be transparent, inclusive, and help small businesses, which he said are the engine of any state's economy.

The Supreme Court of West Virginia established the committee in its administrative conference in June in response to House Bill 4352, which the Legislature passed in March.

Steve Canterbury, the state's Supreme Court administrative director, said he hoped those who attended Friday's public forum would take with them an understanding of the general concept of the business court, discuss it among peers and be ready for public comment on the business court in the near future.

Tennille created one of the nation's first modern, statewide business courts after he took his position in January 1996. He also helped found the American College of Business Court Judges and has been instrumental in helping other states develop business courts.

"When we began the business court in North Carolina, we were starting from scratch," Tennille said. "Now there are 18 states that have some type of business court."

Tennille said he got involved with the business court idea when the governor of North Carolina asked if he would be willing to undertake the task.

"He said I would be creating the kind of court I wanted to work in with business, because I would be starting from the beginning and building it up," Tennille said.

Tennille said the business court involves anything that deals with corporate or commercial law and business practices.

"These days everyone specializes in something," Tennille said. "A business court is a specialized court, and since we are living in a world of complexity, there is more need for expertise in a certain field."

The business court, Tennille said, is also good for economic reasons.

"The business world is flat; it's global," Tennille said. "If we live in this flat world, we have to find a way to keep our values that have made us so successful, but still be cost effective so we can compete globally."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Robin Jean Davis and Supreme Court Justices Menis E. Ketchum and Thomas E. McHugh were present at the beginning of the public forum.

The Supreme Court of West Virginia established the Business Court Committee in its administrative conference in June. The committee is in charge of evaluating business court legislation.

Members of the West Virginia Business Court Committee are Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt of the Twenty-Fourth Judicial Circuit (Wayne County), Chairman; Circuit Judge Donald Cookman of the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit (Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties); Circuit Judge Rudolph J. Murensky, II of the Eight Judicial Circuit (McDowell County); Circuit Judge James J. Rowe of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit (Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties); Circuit Judge Susan B. Tucker of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit (Monongalia County); Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes of the Twenty-Third Judicial Circuit (Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties).

Canterbury said it was important that people know the public forum was not a public hearing.

"Today's just the public forum," he said at Friday's event. "The public hearing will be sometime in the future. Today we just want to present the information for people to learn and think about."

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