The West Virginia Supreme Court is being encouraged to create a new system to consider all business-related lawsuits.
The recommendation comes from a six-member committee the court appointed last year in response to legislation. Lawmakers called for the review, saying legal issues involving businesses are often more complicated and need a specialized forum.
“The judiciary in West Virginia has, from time to time, been considered by the business community to not be favorable to business litigation,” said Wayne County Circuit Judge Darrell Pratt, who wrote the committee’s recommendation.
Some pro-business groups have referred to West Virginia’s civil justice system as a “judicial hellhole.”
Supreme Court Administrator Steve Canterbury said the court has no timetable for when it might consider the committee’s recommendation.
“They (justices) want to make sure they understand all the issues involved,” he said.
Both Pratt and Canterbury said under the new system additional judges would not be hired. Instead, some circuit judges would receive specialized training on how to preside over business-related cases, Pratt said.
To minimize costs one lawyer and an assistant could be hired to ensure only business-related cases are heard by a business court judge, Canterbury said.
“This is all dependent on the Supreme Court approving the development of rules for establishment,” he said. “The rest is in the details.”
A business court is separate from an intermediate appeals court, which has been debated since 2009 and is the subject of legislation this session. A commission appointed by then-Gov. Joe Manchin recommended that an intermediate appeals court be created because there is not an automatic appeal of lower court decisions in West Virginia.
The intermediate court debate started after the Supreme Court unanimously refused full reviews for a pair of civil cases that resulted in jury damage awards totaling $664 million. The high court has since changed its rules so parties now know why their cases were not heard on appeal.
While supportive of the business court, state Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said the issue of guaranteed right of appeal still remains.
“The proposed creation of a business court in no way makes up for the lack of an intermediate court,” Roberts said.
But Pratt said a business court would promote business development and retention in West Virginia. States want to create a better judicial atmosphere for business, and states such as North Carolina, have seen great success after implementing a business court, he said.
Complex cases can take weeks to build up, and can back up court dockets. A business court could significantly reduce the time it takes for a trial to result in a decision.
“Six to nine months can be a long time when you’re trying to resolve a contract disupute,” Pratt said. “You can get in and out quickly, and get on with your business. Time is money for them, and they want someone who understands business litigation.”
Pratt said the committee would be willing to use what it learned during its yearlong review to help the Supreme Court create the state’s business court system.
Canterbury said the five justices might consider the recommendation during an upcoming administrative conference.
If the justices agree to create the business court, the next step would be to develop rules governing its operation. It would take at least 10 months to develop the rules, which would then be subjected to public review and comment before final rules are adopted, Canterbury said.