Businesses need customers to succeed.
The same is true for South Carolina’s Business Court pilot program, except that its patrons are corporate litigants that want their disputes resolved in a special forum with expedited service.
About 10 months after the state Supreme Court launched it, the program’s three judges made a sales pitch to defense litigators at a recent conference in Asheville, N.C.
“We feel like we are salespeople. We’d like to see more cases apply for entry into the Business Court,” Judge Edward W. Miller of Greenville said during the S.C. Defense Trial Attorneys’ Association annual meeting July 25.
He spoke to the group along with fellow Business Court judges J. Michelle Childs of Columbia and Roger M. Young of Charleston.
Judge Young has eight cases on his docket, while Judge Miller has six and Judge Childs has three.
“It’s been kind of slow taking off,” Judge Miller said.
While the three jurists work out of just three counties, cases from all 46 are eligible for the program, provided the parties can effect a venue change.
Both Judges Young and Childs encouraged practitioners to consider Business Court for their cases, even if their disputes don’t fit precisely within the confines set out by the high court’s order.
“There is no typical Business Court case. You just take a shot at it. Right now, we are in the business of soliciting cases, so there’s a pretty good chance that if you file, you’ll get accepted,” Young said.
Childs said cases older than the 180-day timeframe spelled out in the order could also slip in the court’s door, assuming they aren’t too far along in the process.
“If you have existing cases, don’t be shy about asking for those to come over,” she said.
But Young cautioned that suits that have lingered for an extended period on the regular docket might have to stay put. “If the case is two and a half years old, and they want it to come over to Business Court, I’m thinking, ‘What’s the rush all the sudden?'”
And speed is one of the experimental system’s key selling points.
Said Young, “If you want to move faster, we’re going to help you do that.
“That’s what Business Court is really designed to do: get right to whatever the critical issue is as soon as possible,” he said. “Both sides are usually looking to do that. Everybody in these suits wants it over as soon as possible.”
Miller said several cases he’s handled started out with requests for temporary restraining orders, an indication that something needed to be done quickly.
“I’ve had two or three with trade secrets allegations in them, and those are the types of things that have to be dealt with right away. Once the bell is rung, it’s hard to unring it,” he said.
Another factor the judges look for when deciding to take a case is whether the dispute poses an immediate threat to a company’s ability to stay afloat.
“Just because it’s a dispute between businesses doesn’t mean it’s a Business Court case,” Miller said. “In my mind, our jurisdiction is designed so that we can listen to those cases that really affect the ongoing ability of a business organization to exist.
“They can’t wait on the trial docket for a year or two,” he said.
And few, if any, Business Court cases will make it to trial.
Young said he talked with a counterpart in North Carolina who had never presided over a trial during his three years on the Business Court there.
“Business cases settle because businesspeople can’t afford not to settle,” Young said.
According to Gray T. Culbreath, the Columbia lawyer who moderated the discussion, the pilot program will expire in September 2009. Then, the high court will evaluate the program’s success and decide where to go with it.
Questions or comments may be directed to the writer at [email protected].