CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court's creation of a new Business Court Division is drawing positive reviews across the board.
House Speaker Rick Thompson was at the Sept. 11 press conference when Justice Robin Jean Davis unveiled the plan and the rules that will govern the division once it starts Oct. 10.
Thompson, D-Wayne, has been pushing for the creation of such a court for four years.
"I think a separate business docket focusing on resolving commercial litigation will make our state a much more welcoming environment for businesses and assist circuit judges in managing these often complex cases," Thompson said Tuesday. "
He first proposed the idea of a business court in 2008. In 2010, the Legislature adopted House Bill 4352, which allowed the Court to establish a business court within the existing circuit court system. He said he sought this legislation after learning about Delaware's business court, also known as a "Court of Chancery," which dates back two centuries.
"Delaware's Chancery Court is known nationally for efficient handling of commercial law and complex litigation between businesses, and it is no coincidence that Delaware is home to a very large percentage of Fortune 500 companies," Thompson said. "I am grateful to all the justices for moving this initiative forward, to Judge Darrell Pratt for leading a thorough examination of potential issues surrounding business litigation and to Justice Robin Davis for developing rules to facilitate a just and efficient process for these unique cases.
"This sends a powerful message to the business community that this state is business friendly."
The president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce agreed.
"We're supportive of the creation of the business court," Steve Roberts said. "We appreciate that the Supreme Court recognizes that some business issues are very complex and require a specialized knowledge about certain issues, such as taxes, technology, copyright and patent issues.
"From my point of view, we're hopeful that this combination of changes – the business court and the recent changes in appellate review -- will help. We still want an intermediate appellate court. This isn't everything we wanted, but it's a positive change. The change of appellate rules and the creation of the business court, to us, stack up as positive announcements."
The president of the West Virginia Association for Justice called the business court an important and needed addition to the state's civil justice system.
"Research from the National Center for State Courts shows that business versus business litigation has risen steadily for three decades," Scott Blass said. "Today, more than 50 percent of all civil cases nationally involve contract disputes between businesses, and nearly one-third of all tort cases involve cases between business interests.
"West Virginia's new business court will allow these cases, which often include complex and very technical issues, to be handled efficiently and fairly. It will also play a critical role in protecting West Virginia businesses when they are wronged by larger corporations that violate contracts, steal trade secrets or otherwise compete unfairly."
The president of the Defense Trial Counsel of West Virginia also hailed the new creation.
"We applaud the efforts of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in establishing the Busienss Court Division," said Michael Cimino, an attorney at Jackson Kelly in Charleston. "Obviously, it's a new concept. We are hopeful that the Business Court Division will provide a consistency in decisions on key issues and efficiency of the procedural process.
"The idea behind the concept that the judges will receive special training will make them experts in these types of issues. That can only be a good thing for all parties involved."
The managing member of Steptoe & Johnson's Martinsburg office is happy that the new court will be headquartered in her city.
"We are pleased that the Supreme Court has selected Martinsburg for the location of the Business Court Division," Bridget Cohee said. "Our attorneys in Martinsburg offer both business litigation services to our clients and mediation services for parties looking for alternative ways to resolve disputes.
"The addition of the Business Court Division here allows clients across the state and region to more efficiently handle business litigation matters, and our Martinsburg office is conveniently located to provide both legal services in the Business Court Division and to host alternative dispute resolution for non-clients."
The executive director of West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse said the creation of the business court is a good step, but he still wants more to be done to fix problems in the state's legal system.
"While the Supreme Court's business court proposal is certainly admirable and the judges initially appointed are high quality picks, it really does nothing to address the problems most cited as needing fixed in West Virginia's legal system," Richie Heath said. "West Virginia's insufficient appeals process -- and in particular our state's lack of an intermediate appeals court -- is most frequently cited as the critical problem needing fixed.
"In fact, West Virginia was just recently ranked by the Institute for Legal Reform as having the worst legal climate in the nation in large part because of our current appeals process, and not the lack of any sort of business courts."
Heath said the business court will provide a useful mechanism for dealing with unique and complex business litigation.
"But the proposal does little to address the numerous areas of law in which West Virginia finds itself outside of the national legal mainstream," he said. "Given their limited application, the mere presence of business courts won't likely put to rest the fears that many businesses currently have of West Virginia's legal climate.
"In order to truly improve the battered reputation of our state legal climate, we will need to address the real problems currently plaguing our state courts."