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Business court system a solution?

Clearing the caseloads

Significant steps have been taken to streamline Mississippi’s court system, which is often bogged down with massive caseloads.

In the early 1990s, Mississippi lawmakers passed legislation creating the Mississippi Court of Appeals, an appellate court designed to ease some of the backlog of cases in front of the state Supreme Court.

Specialized drug courts and family courts hear cases involving each, clearing up Circuit Court dockets for more serious criminal and civil cases.

That is the concept behind Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann’s formation of a group of business leaders, professors, labor leaders, consumers and attorneys who represent plaintiffs and business contractors to study the feasibility of a business court system in Mississippi.

The Business Court Study Group is chaired by former state Supreme Court Justice Edwin Pittman and has met twice since its inception. The group will meet five more times and make a recommendation to the Legislature. The next scheduled meeting is July 9.

“Just as drug courts and family courts have taken some of the strain from our Circuit Courts, business courts will allow for business cases to be considered in a much shorter time-frame,” Hosemann says. “Because of increased criminal cases, too often business cases drag on for years in Circuit Court. This costs businesses, particularly our small business owners, too much time and money, which could be better spent on new employees, equipment or a better healthcare plan.”

The group is divided into four subcommittees — jurisdiction/venue, finding/fees, procedure/technology and judicial selection.

James Holland, partner at the Jackson law firm of Page Kruger and Holland, chairs the jurisdiction/venue subcommittee.

“Secretary Hosemann has assembled a very diverse group to study this issue. All on the committee really care about our state and its future and creating an environment favorable to all Mississippians as well as businesses, small and large,” he says.

Gleaned from the first two meetings of the group, Holland says, is the success other states have had with business court systems. Where they have been implemented they have proven cost-effective and efficient. Some states are even expanding their business court systems because of their high approval ratings.

“It’s a relatively new thing,” says Madison attorney Joey Diaz, who chairs the judicial selection subcommittee.

Business litigation is usually complex and requires copious study time for judges already busy with other civil cases and a docketful of criminal matters.

Those factors lead to a slow trek through the judicial system for each side of a business dispute.

“Litigation in general can take some time,” Diaz says. “That’s a complaint we hear a lot. Detailed business litigation has shown that it can take a little longer than some other things.”

Exact costs of establishing a business court system are difficult to configure, but Holland admits that, when the meetings started, financial feasibility was among the priorities.

“Initially, we were apprehensive of the potential cost associated with the implementation of a business court,” Holland says. “Our study of similar courts in other states has shown that many of these courts fund themselves and other states have created these courts by simply reallocating judges from within their existing court systems to hear business cases.”

When its meetings conclude in August, the study group will formulate a recommendation and present it to Gov. Haley Barbour and the Legislature. Minutes of each meeting are available on the secretary of state’s website.

“Our goals are to determine whether a business court is right for Mississippi, and, if so, to make recommendations for its creation and establishment,” Holland says.

“There are several benefits to creating a business court in Mississippi. A business court would allow judges who have experience in business issues to hear business cases. Cases would then be handled in a faster, more efficient manner, which would allow businesses to continue to conduct business without the worry of pending litigation. A business court would also allow the state to establish a body of case law that would provide guidance for people to follow when doing business in our state.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Clay Chandler at clay.chandler@ msbusiness.com .

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