New courts could be good business for state

South Bend Tribune

For the next three years, six judges in the state will take part in a pilot program that could ultimately free courts from the burden of complicated, messy business cases, allowing them to resolve other cases, such as child custody disputes, more quickly.

The Indiana Commercial Court Pilot Program, started at the request of the state’s Supreme Court, will enable business-related court cases to be fast tracked. Judges in Elkhart, Lake, Allen, Marion, Vanderburgh and Floyd counties will participate. Right now, 22 other states. including Michigan, Ohio and Illinois have created similar special courts.

Business lawsuits often are some of the most time consuming. They’re often personal, with stakeholders from family businesses pitted against one another over trade secrets, contracts or noncompete agreements and can drag on for months, if not years, clogging already overworked courts.

Specialized courts appear to be working in other states.

For example, in the eight months after the business court opened in Kent County (Grand Rapids), Michigan, on March 1, 2012, 28 of 112 cases were closed without going to trial. And it took, on average, only 104 days to close those cases.

Not every business case would qualify. Personal injury claims, routine debt collection and most employment law cases wouldn’t qualify. A group of judges and lawyers from around the state will meet regularly to review commercial court guidelines and craft rules for Indiana.

Supporters say judges who oversee the cases develop an expertise that other judges don’t have and that rulings are more consistent. And as far as businesses are concerned, saving time in courts means saving money for them.

There are drawbacks. Both sides in a dispute must agree to have their case heard in the special court. And there’s the issue of money and how the courts will be funded.

The state has budgeted $250,000 annually to cover the salaries of four law clerks to support the courts. But what if the state decides to move ahead with the court after the three-year trial? Certainly the additional courts won’t save the state money.

Everyone understands how courts today are overwhelmed. Diverting a good chunk of the calendar into a special court dedicated to ruling only on those cases could lessen backlogs. At the very least, giving commercial courts a try in Indiana is a good idea and could prove well worth it in the end.

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