WV circuit court judge gives progress report on business court - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

WV circuit court judge gives progress report on business court

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Jim Rowe, a judge in Greenbrier County Circuit court and a judge in the business court division, gave attorneys a progress report on the new court division in a May 4 West Virginia Bar Association conference.

Rowe explained he became interested in business courts a number of years ago.

"I became interested because I felt that many judges, including myself, were ill equipped to handle these complex issues."

First off, the business court division, which went live in October 2012, is not actually a separate court.

It is a separate docket within the circuit court system. Parties must file referral motions within three months from the time the suit is filed. However, a circuit judge can choose to refer the case at any time.

Headquartered in Martinsburg, the business court is divided into seven regions. It will hear business-against-business disputes. Currently, there is one case before the business court division.

Rowe said many times the case will be heard in the county in which it was filed. However, it depends on what is convenient for the parties.

"Sometimes there are examples or instances in which judges conduct hearing outside county where it's been filed for convenience of the parties," Rowe said. "Sometimes it's easy for lawyers to come to where you are. … Say you have a Hampshire County case or a Hardy County case, it may be easier for lawyers to fly into Martinsburg rather than fly into a smaller airport."

Businesses in this division can have their case heard before a judge or a jury. In this division, similar to the state's mass litigation panel, there is a presiding judge, a resolution judge and a mediator.

The division's goal is to resolve cases within 10 months from the date the initial case management document was filed.

"I think there's a good chance that a majority of cases can be resolved within 10 months," Rowe said.

So far, 13 cases have been referred to the business court division.

One attorney expressed concern that it struck him that it made no difference what was going on if an individual was suing an architect firm about design rather than a business suing the same firm, because it would be the same issues that needed resolved.

"That needs to get sorted out," Rowe said, later adding, "However, if an architect involves an architect business, personally I believe the rule would allow it because it's a business entity. Even sole proprietorships are business entities as opposed to the person being sued as an owner."

Another attorney asked if there was a reason attorneys couldn't file a motion to refer with the filing of the complaint. The attorney said it can be a lengthy time between the time the complaint is filed, the response to the complaint and then the motion to refer and the response to that motion.

"I don't know why either," Rowe said. "I agree and I think the sooner you can get involved in the initial conference, the better. It makes it difficult and there are time limitations of several months right there."

He said there are a few things he would like to see in the future, such as e-filing, but considers the current business court as a "great first start."

"I hold high hopes for this but it will require a lot of additional work and experience by members of the bar. I invite you all to be mindful of the need to help guide the court, guide the business court division in the coming months and years to prefect this and ensure it does meet the need. West Virginia is ahead of many states but it is also behind a few states who have done this for a long time."

Rowe explained that there will be a survey conducted at the end of the years where members of the bar involved in the business court division will give feedback of how the business court did.

"It is a work in progress," he said. "Whether it meets the goals, the common understanding is that all of us want to see West Virginia succeed. In order for us to succeed, we need business to succeed. … My job is to serve the public and the business court's job is to serve the business community and make it all work."