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Robin Davis: New business courts will help West Virginia

Oct. 07, 2012 @ 07:32 AM

It was gratifying at a meeting of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce late this summer to learn the results of the organization's Court Watch, its annual report card on decisions rendered by the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

Their analysis of 32 decisions by the five justices over the previous two terms concluded that 22 were good for business, eight were not and two were neutral. The legal review team of respected West Virginia lawyers comes on the eve of another positive development in the state judiciary, creation of a court devoted exclusively to business-to-business lawsuits.

At that same Chamber meeting, House Speaker Rick Thompson, who hails from the Huntington area, explained the legislation creating this specialty court is modeled after one in Delaware where complex corporate litigation -- contracts, tax matters, commercial or technology issues -- can be adjudicated.

The new business court comes at no additional cost to the taxpayers of West Virginia.

The seven-region system here in West Virginia will free up dockets so the state's 70 circuit judges can concentrate on civil and criminal cases more expeditiously. Counsel makes application to me and my fellow justices to have a case transferred to the new business court with a goal of resolving it within 10 months.

Each of the seven regions will be comprised of six to 11 counties.

Judge Christopher Wilkes of Berkeley County, who will head the business court, observes that "A speedier resolution is important so a business can remain operating during the resolution of the case. Often times," says Judge Wilkes, "the facts of the case are already determined and the parties just need an application of the facts to the law."

According to the head of the West Virginia Contractors Association, Mike Clowser, "the business community should view this as a very positive action to expedite issues that arise."

While mediation will be explored in the business court as a first option, judges assigned to the business court cases will preside over bench and jury trials.

About a dozen-and-a-half other states have a business court like Delaware's, which is 200 years old. Elsewhere the concept wasn't adopted until relatively recently, in just the last 20 years or so.

Judge Wilkes, who chaired the panel formed in June 2011 that studied the business court plan, notes that West Virginia has chosen the best features of the business courts in other states and says that "attorneys that deal in these cases welcome it."

The creation of a business court complements the revisions I made to the Rules of Appellate Procedure so that every request for an appeal to West Virginia's Supreme Court gets a written explanation as to whether or not it merits review by the justices.

West Virginia can be proud of its new business court, which will start this month, and I am pleased that as of January Judge James Young from the Wayne County circuit will be hearing these cases.

According to Speaker Thompson, "A separate business docket focusing on resolving commercial litigation will make our state a much more welcoming environment for business." It "sends a powerful message to the business community that this state is business friendly."

Based on the conclusions of the state Chamber's Court Watch, the foundation is in place to help send that signal. Creating a special business court in West Virginia will only help. If that means more jobs for our state, there is a reason to celebrate.

Robin Davis, of Charleston, is a Democratic candidate for justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.

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