The state Supreme Court will debut a business court division next month, taking often-complicated disputes out of a hectic circuit court system, Chief Justice Robin Davis said this week.
The business court that will start Oct. 10 generally will handle disputes involving commercial or technology issues, including complex tax appeals.
“Those issues can get bogged down in a busy circuit court docket,” Davis said. “So this provides a way for circuit judges to be relieved from the burden of handling those novel or complex issues.”
The goal is to expedite decisions within 10 months after a judge enters a case management order, Davis said.
According to the new court’s rules, claims heard by the business court would involve matters “of significance to the transactions, operations or governance between business entities.”
The new court won’t handle cases involving product liability, personal injury and wrongful death, consumer class actions and criminal cases.
The court will have seven regions. Its central location will be announced next month. Each region will encompass six to 11 counties.
A bill signed in 2010 by then-Gov. Joe Manchin laid the groundwork for the new court system. House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said Tuesday it should improve the state’s business climate. At least 18 other states have established such courts since 1993.
“It sends out a message that West Virginia is prepared for new businesses and to take care of our businesses that are already here,” said Thompson, a practicing attorney. “With the dockets these (circuit) courts have, I know they’re very busy. They handle it, but it’s not as fast as we would like for it to be.”
Cases can be referred to the business division by the chief justice, and any circuit judge or litigating party can file motions to do so.
The Supreme Court will appoint a total of seven judges to serve on the business court in addition to their other circuit duties with no additional pay. The judges will have seven-year staggered terms and can serve successive terms, Davis said.
Those appointed to start on Oct. 10 are Judge Christopher Wilkes from the 23rd judicial circuit comprising Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties; Judge James Rowe from the 11th judicial circuit in Greenbrier and Pocahontas counties, and Judge Donald Cookman from the 22nd judicial circuit in Hampshire, Hardy and Pendleton counties. Wilkes will be the division’s chairman for three years.
Wayne County Circuit Judge James Young Jr. will join them on Jan 1. Davis said the three other judges will be added as needed. To qualify, they must have at least three years’ experience as a circuit judge.