Kent County 17th Circuit Court specialized business court pilot takes off



Initial results from the Kent County 17th Circuit Court’s 10 month long specialized business court pilot program indicate that the courts is achieving its intended purpose.

The 17th Circuit Court was one of three courts involved in the pilot program. Oakland and Macomb counties also participated.

“All in all it seems to be very successful,” said Chief Judge Donald Johnston.

Johnston appointed Judge Christopher Yates to serve as the specialized business court judge.

Johnston said that between March 1 and Dec. 31, Yates took in 167 cases and resolved 52 of those cases with an average time of 110 days between filing and disposition.

In comparison, Johnston said that the last report he saw from Macomb County’s pilot program, which ran for a full year, indicated they’d taken in 24 cases and closed out 11, with average disposition time of 150 days.

An advisory committee was put in place to look for complications or issues in the 17th Circuit Court’s business court implementation, and so far there has been nothing to report.

The purpose of the business court docket is fourfold: to simplify business litigation, reduce the cost of that litigation, speed up the judicial process and clear up the court’s overall docket.

“There are several elements of the business courts that I think are proving to be quite helpful,” said Yates.

He said that the early status conferences, conducted between Yates and the case attorneys — and occasionally their clients — are helping to identify issues early on as well as allowing for tailoring a specific plan and schedule to the case.

“We really are able to tailor each schedule to the needs of the case. That has worked well,” he said.

Secondly, Yates is now publishing all of the business court’s decisions on a public website, which he said has really increased the predictability of the cases.

“People are now getting a very good idea of what I’m likely to do with certain issues that come up on a regular basis,” he said. “So it saves a lot of time and effort and litigation, because people don’t have to spend a day or two putting on evidence just to get to a result that is pretty predictable.”

Finally, the electronic filing component has significantly helped the process. Yates said he is also able to do more over the phone and with more immediacy, which has greatly helped the attorneys, specifically out-of-town attorneys.

This is all good news for the 14 additional Circuit Courts that will be required to implement their own specialized business court docket in the coming months due to legislation Gov. Rick Snyder signed in 2012 requiring business courts for every Circuit Court with three judges or more.

“The three pilots were very different from each other,” Yates said. “Now the state law is going to require the business courts to be more uniform, but not absolutely uniform. As a result of that there is room in the planning process to design each business court to suit the needs of the business community in that jurisdiction.”

Yates is becoming a highly sought after resource, however, as the other courts work on implementation plans for the specialized business courts, especially given the results the 17th Circuit has seen with the pilot program.

“There are certain elements of our court that are likely to easily be used in other places,” Yates said, mentioning electronic filing and the court’s interactive website. “Then there are other aspects of the Kent County system that are going to be harder to replicate.”

Ottawa County’s 20th Circuit Court is one of the courts currently in the process of figuring out how it will comply with the new legislation and implement the business court docket into its four-judge court system.

“Our two big steps here are, one, to identify exactly what judge is going to do this,” said Chief Judge Edward Post. “We’ve talked about it and have some ideas but nothing is firm yet. Then, secondly, how to reallocate the caseload assignment so there is still a fair distribution of work among all the judges.

“We have some infrastructure work to do, but we are a long ways down that road, particularly when it comes to electronic filing. We do have a system in place that allows for electronic filing.”

Even though he thinks that the smaller courts will face bigger implementation and management challenges, Edwards said he understands why Michigan needs to move forward with the business courts.

“We understand how that benefits the state of Michigan and makes Michigan just that much more attractive to businesses, and certainly Michigan has to do whatever it can to make itself attractive to businesses,” he said. “I think that is a large part of this whole proposal. It’s another selling point when we are trying to get businesses to come to Michigan to say that we are going to look after your litigation needs as well.”

All of the courts required to comply with the business court legislation will be up and running by July 1.

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