By RICK THOMPSON
CHARLESTON -- Recently, I enjoyed the great pleasure of witnessing the beginning steps of two state initiatives I have strongly supported, and for which I hold high hopes.
While on the surface, the pending opening of the Herbert Henderson Office of Minority Affairs and the introduction of a new statewide Business Court Division seem unrelated, both carry tremendous potential to move West Virginia’s economy and quality of living forward.
And both build upon the concept that an effective government cannot be one-size-fits-all, but must continually adjust to its residents’ changing needs.
Several years ago, when the establishment of a Minority Affairs Office was proposed, I must admit my first reaction was simply excitement at the opportunity to honor the memory of my good friend, Herb Henderson. Herb, who is from my home district, was a tireless civil rights advocate, an outstanding attorney and a generous spirit – someone I admired, loved and miss a great deal.
But after further considering the concept of a center focused on maintaining a meaningful dialogue about the issues facing West Virginia's minorities – and after talking at length to the legislation’s lead sponsor, Delegate Clif Moore – I became convinced this office was not only needed, but long overdue.
All West Virginians should have a voice and every West Virginian should have access to the same opportunities. That is what is right and fair.
In addition, the state as a whole benefits. Those who add diversity to our society also contribute greatly economically, socially and culturally. Everyone prospers.
The House of Delegates has adopted legislation to create such an office every year since 2008. Finally, this year the full Legislature passed House Bill 4015, and last month Dr. Carolyn Stuart was appointed director of the Huntington-based office. I wish her the utmost success and look forward to learning from the work of the Herbert Henderson center.
At the same time, I am eager for the state’s new Business Court Division to begin its work this month.
This is a concept I have been advocating for the past four years because 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.
A few years ago, I attended a conference which featured Delaware's business court, also called a Court of Chancery, which is known nationally for efficient handling of commercial law and complex litigation between businesses. Delaware is also home to a very large percentage of Fortune 500 companies.
Legislation to create a business court was first introduced in 2008 and in 2010, the Legislature adopted House Bill 4352, which allowed 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 other specialized cases such as juvenile or abuse and neglect.
After appointing a special committee to study the issue and develop rules of procedure, the West Virginia Supreme Court voted 5-0 in favor of establishing the new Business Court Division. I am very grateful to all the justices for supporting the concept, and to Wayne Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt for leading the study.
Any corporation operating in any state expects there to be legal disputes among businesses. What corporations seek is timely consideration and a clear understanding of what to expect from the litigation process. A well established business court division can provide that stability, making West Virginia a much more appealing place to do business.
In these two initiatives I see a refreshing willingness within state government to adjust and grow with West Virginia’s changing economy and society – a sign of a bright future for the entire state.
Thompson, D-Wayne, is the Speaker of the House of Delegates.