Maricopa County Superior Court is about to embark on a court specializing in commercial lawsuits, a venture designed to make litigating easier for businesses and make Arizona more business friendly.
Stephen Tully, a corporate attorney who sat on a committee that designed the court’s framework, said he sees it as a selling point for businesses to locate to Arizona.
“I think you tell them, ‘Look, you come here, you’re not going to get stuck in the hell-hole that is the California court system. In Texas, they’ve got a lot of tort reform and a lot of small county jurisdictions. You’re not going to get stuck in a Vegas situation where all the judges are elected,’” Tully said. “If you’re in the West, where would you want to be?”
Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales issued an order May 8 establishing a 3-year pilot program to begin on July 1.
Judges Dawn Bergin, Roger Brodman, and Christopher Whitten will serve on the court.
The idea is to move cases more efficiently and cut the costs of litigation, and one of the ways that will be achieved is the attorneys will be required to set out an agreed-upon litigation plan.
“It’s not the court just sitting back passively and waiting for things to happen at the pace or order that one side or the other might want to pursue it,” Bales said. “It’s the court getting together early on with the parties saying, ‘OK, if we’re going to get from here to the conclusion of this case, which path is going to be the most efficient?’”
Tully said one of the problems in Maricopa County is that judges rotate assignments every few years, and they are often assigned to an area of law in which they have no experience.
“They go to the civil bench and those of us in civil law get in front of them and they may be the smartest people in the world and, certainly, they can figure it out, but there’s a learning curve with everything, and they’re only going to be on there for three years and then they’ll be rotated off,” Tully said.
He said civil cases can take considerable time because there are no speedy trial rights as in criminal court, and they often involve complex facts and confusing law, so it is common for a judge to move on to a new assignment during the life of a case, which is not ideal.
Tully said his goal is for the commercial court judges to have terms of between eight and 10 years to bring a degree of sophistication by the judges and degree of predictability of the outcome.
“If a judge has seen an issue several times, you might have an inclination as to how they would likely rule on an issue, and therefore be able to advise your client accordingly,” Tully said.
Bales said the commercial court is in line with the Supreme Court’s initiative to provide better access to the courts.
“Just like we don’t want individuals shut out of court because they can’t afford lawyers, we don’t want businesses to be effectively shut out of court because it takes so long or it costs so much to use the court to resolve a dispute,” Bales said.