By The Gazette Editorial Board
At first glance, many of a task force’s recent recommendations to streamline Iowa’s civil court processes make sense.
Establishing a two-tiered system and a one-judge, one-case policy to ensure more consistent rulings, help with case management and costs, might help expedite cases. Tweaks such as capping expert witness fees and using video and teleconferencing could save the system considerable time and money. They’re worth careful consideration.
We’re intrigued by one proposal in particular: A business court pilot for handling highly-complex commercial or business litigation.
The pilot would create a parallel civil track within the existing civil court system for high-dollar, complicated matters: technology licensing, intellectual property rights, breech of contract, trade secrets and similar cases. Cases would be assigned to specific judges with particular interest or expertise.
Business and complex case courts already are being piloted or used in about half the states in the country, including neighboring states such as Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Such states generally have found that judges within those tracks develop a much greater baseline understanding of complicated issues, which helps to move cases through the system that much more quickly, says Deborah Saunders of the National Center for State Courts, an independent, non-profit court improvement organization.
Saunders, who studies the issue, told us that modern business courts have become increasingly popular since they were begun in Chicago and New York nearly two decades ago. Every system is a little different, she said — tailored to meet local caseloads.
“It’s really a way for the court to manage their docket,” she said.
Not much research has been completed about how much such courts save in terms of money or resources, she said, but it only stands to reason that increasing efficiency will cut costs, so long as the caseload supports a business court and attorneys use it.
According to the task force’s research, Iowa has enough complex civil cases to justify a business court. We think it makes sense to establish a pilot project and track efficiencies in time and money.
Whatever savings are gleaned surely won’t be enough to make up for all the cuts our state’s court system has endured, but it’s a good step. And judicial leaders will be able to make an even stronger case for legislators to restore some sorely needed funds.
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