Bar News - August 15, 2008
Backers: Business Court Will Help State Economy
By: Dan Wise & Craig Sander
A court dedicated to hearing significant disputes involving businesses will be a boon to the stateís ability to attract and retain employers, court leaders and lawmakers asserted at a bill-signing ceremony last month.
The billís prime sponsor, Sen. Peter Burling, an attorney who is not seeking reelection this fall after 18 years in the legislature, said that he believes the creation of a business docket in the superior court, as created by SB378, will benefit Sullivan County, where he lives, and other areas of the state that have been struggling economically.
"Gov. Lynch and his administration and the legislature have consistently demonstrated a commitment to the needs of the New Hampshire economy and the business community. Passage of this bill will allow us to respond quickly to the needs of the business community for remedy and resolution," said Burling, who was joined in support of the bill by Senators Joseph Foster, Deborah Reynolds, and Margaret Hassan, all attorneys, and Jackie Cilley and Martha Fuller Clark.
Gov. Lynch was also joined at the ceremony by NH Supreme Court Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr., and Superior Court Chief Justice Robert Lynn. Broderick and Lynn not only supported the bill in the legislature, but have made several speaking appearances at business groups to promote the availability of this dispute-resolution option.
The legislation allows the superior court to designate a judge to specifically be assigned to hear cases involving businesses where the dispute involves more than $50,000.
The governor has indicated that he seeks to fill one of three current vacancies on the Superior Court with a nominee with a business law background to serve as the presiding justice of the business court. Court officials said none of the sitting justices of the superior court expressed an interest in serving on the business-specific court.
The ranks of the superior court have been thinned in recent years, largely due to several judges opting to take early retirement following the establishment of a more flexible retirement benefit plan. Some civil litigation attorneys and members of the superior court bench have publicly and privately voiced concerns about the business courtís creation, saying that creating a specialized docket in a general-jurisdiction court may increase the efficiency of handling one group of cases at the expense of the other matters within its jurisdiction. While criminal matters, subject to speedy trial rules, may be spared, other forms of civil litigation may suffer.
"Thereís a huge backlog of cases right now," said Chris Seufert of the Seufert Professional Association in Franklin. Seufert, past president of the NH Association for Justice, said that he supported the creation of the business court so long as the superior court doesnít lose another judge in a court whose ranks are already spread thin. "If it speeds up business cases, it frees up time for non-business trials. And if the court gets funding to replace the judge of the business court, itís a good thing."
Broderick said that business courts exist in 18 to 19 other states. Having a specialized court will "make justice more accessible to them and accommodate the speed at which they move today." For several years, Chief Justice Broderick has expressed concern that the courts must adapt to the 21st century or they will lose part of their constituency and relevance to society, as those who can afford it will resort to faster, more responsive private dispute-resolution alternatives.
"The benefit of this [business court] is that business people will understand the importance of the third branch of our government. It will give businesses a stake in the judiciary and provide the advantage of precedence and public exposure," said Scott Harris of McLane, Graf, Raulerson & Middleton in Concord. Harris is also president of the NH Association for Justice. "It will also improve the administration of justice in general while being less expensive for businesses than private dispute-resolution programs."
Richard Samuels, a corporate and tax attorney at the McLane law firm, spoke in favor of the bill at the signing ceremony. "No business likes to litigate," he said, "but it is a great thing to have a state court with expertise to which to direct complex matters. I think it is one more good thing for New Hampshire to offer the business community."