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Arizona Debates Special Courts For Business Cases

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch
Arizona Supreme Court
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch

Around the country, some jurisdictions have specialized courts that only handle certain kinds of cases. Sometimes they're geared toward veterans, drug cases, or defendants with mental health issues. Arizona may soon have a specialized court dealing just with businesses.

This all got started with an order from State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, creating the Business Court Advisory Committee. She wrote that commercial cases often take up a lot of the court's time and can get very expensive. And she asked the committee to look at what a business court could do for Arizona.

"We're not talking about, in my view, a pro-business court," said David Rosenbaum, a longtime commercial litigator who is serving as chair of the committee. "I think by and large the cases that we envision being assigned to this court would be one business dealing with another business."

Even though those businesses are suing each other, they often have mutual interests: "in keeping expenses reasonable and proportionate to the issues in the case, and getting your case resolved fairly and expeditiously."

Rosenbaum said a business court would have a judge and a staff that understand things like providing necessary documents for the other side to review can be a massive undertaking in commercial cases. Where once it might have been a file cabinet or two, now it can be terabytes worth of data.

Business courts have popped up over the last 20 years or so, according to analyst Jarret Hann with the National Center for State Courts. He said about half the states in the United States now have some kind of business court, located in commercial centers with a critical mass of cases that makes it a worthwhile investment.

"We're seeing the same thing in drug courts, in veterans courts," Hann said. "You're not going to see a business court pop up in Prescott, but you're going to see one in Phoenix."

Hann said business courts are usually well-received, as long as there's buy-in from the judiciary and from legislators. Sometimes, there can be a cost to starting a business court if new judges or staffers get hired.

"However, the growth we've seen from one or two business courts to half the states in the nation having business courts seems to show that jurisdictions are finding that any costs are outweighed by the net benefit to the public," he said.

Mostly, that benefit is keeping business cases out of civil court and making the judicial process faster for everyone. Rosenbaum said the study committee here in Arizona will likely recommend some kind of business court pilot program.

"That makes it easier to be experimental and think outside the box because if we make a mistake, at least it's just a pilot program," he said.

The committee's recommendations are due in December.

Nick Blumberg was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2010 to 2014.