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Officials hope business court rule will speed up docket

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Judicial officials still ironing out the logistics of the state's fledgling business court said Tuesday that they hope a new rule will help speed up the court's docket by clearly defining eligible cases.

Around the time the statewide business court opened in the fall, the state Supreme Court issued an order that defined eligible cases as ones that involve "commercial and technological" disputes that require more time and attention than other cases, Greenbrier County Circuit Judge James Rowe said after a seminar Tuesday sponsored by the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

Rowe said that the rule should help the high court shepherd only the most complicated lawsuits - like stockholder derivative suits or intellectual property disputes -- to the business court while weeding out other matters that are solved more easily at the circuit court level.

"[The rule change] is premised under the assumption that the business court can provide business attorneys in complex matters sound deliberation and reasoning," Rowe said. "That's the key to it."

Rowe is one of four circuit judges the Supreme Court chose to sit on the new business court, which he said has handled one case since it opened last year. Judge Christopher Wilkes of Berkeley County, Judge Donald Cookman of Pendleton County, and Judge James Young Jr. of Wayne County also serve on the court. The judges do not receive additional pay.

Consumer litigation cases, such as ones that involve product liability and personal injury, will not be eligible for transfer to the business court, according to the Supreme Court order. Cases arising under the West Virginia Consumer Credit Act, consumer insurance coverage disputes and non-commercial disputes relating to bad faith also are among a list of ineligible cases.

In 2010, lawmakers passed a bill that allowed the Supreme Court to establish a business court within the existing state court system. The court's jurisdiction is broken into five different regions in the state. Kanawha, Putnam, Mason, Jackson, Roane, and Calhoun counties fall under "region C," for example.

Parties that wish to have their cases heard by the business court panel must file a motion with the state Supreme Court. If the court grants the motion, the case will be assigned to one of the four business court judges, generally in the region closest to the county in which the original lawsuit was filed, according to the order.

Judge Wilkes was named the chairman of the court. The administrative headquarters is in Berkeley County.

Rowe said that the business court is still new, so the sitting judges have not run into any major problems so far.

"We're just getting off the ground," he said. "We just need to get some history."

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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