CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Businesses will have a new arena to settle legal disputes in West Virginia next month. On Oct. 10, the state Supreme Court plans to open a business court designed to handle complex and technical issues that come up in commercial litigation cases."This provides a way for circuit court judges to be relieved from the burden of handling those novel or complex issues," said Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis during a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday. "It also should provide a more expeditious and judicious resolution of disputes for business litigants."The business court won't handle consumer lawsuits, and products liability, personal injury, wrongful death cases.
Instead, the court will take up contract and shareholder disputes, and trade secrets and securities cases."Generally, disputes must be between businesses" to qualify for the business court, Davis said.The court's chief justice will be able to refer cases to the business court division. Circuit judges and both parties in a lawsuit also may file mot ions to refer cases to the new business court division.Judges will "make all reasonable efforts" to conclude business court cases within 10 months, according to new trial court rules. Circuit Judge Christopher Wilkes of Berkeley County will serve as chairman of the new business court. Circuit judges James Rowe of Greenbrier County and Donald Cookman of Pendleton County also will serve on the court, starting Oct. 10. Circuit Judge James Young on Wayne County will take a seat on the new court Jan. 1.The judges will serve on the business court with no additional pay, Davis said. All are Democrats except Wilkes, who is a Republican.Wilkes, Rowe and Cookman served on a committee that has studied the business court proposal since June 2011.The Supreme Court plans to announce the business court's headquarters next month.About half of all states already have specialized business courts.In 2010, state legislators passed a bill that allowed the Supreme Court to establish a business court docket within the existing state court system.On Tuesday, House Speaker Rick Thompson said the Supreme Court's business division would help improve West Virginia's business climate.
"This is a concept I have been advocating the past four years because I think a separate business docket focusing on resolving commercial litigation will make our state a much more welcoming environment for business and assist circuit judges in managing these often complex cases," Thompson said. "This sends a powerful message to the business community that this state is business friendly."Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, said the Supreme Court's business division was a "good step.""We don't think this is a silver bullet," said Roberts, whose group has pushed for an intermediate court of appeals that would handle all types of business cases. "In West Virginia, we need some positive indicators to show investors and those looking to create jobs that West Virginia is really with it."The new business court will have seven regions. Each region will include six to 11 counties.Reach Eric Eyre at email@example.com or 304-348-4869.