- On September 15, 2017
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Crain’s Cleveland Business
September 13, 2017
After nearly three years since its disbanding, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court‘s commercial docket will be resurrected in 2018.
General division judges approved the docket’s restoration at their Sept. 13 monthly meeting.
It was a long time coming.
The docket was formally adopted in the Cuyahoga County court in 2013 following a three-year pilot program. But local judges eliminated it in January 2015 following the Ohio Supreme Court’s rejection of Judge Cassandra Collier-Williams from sitting on the docket.
At the time, the high court was required to affirm any judges appointed to commercial dockets, who were recommended by a local subcommittee. Cuyahoga judges were miffed by the Supreme Court’s view that Collier-Williams was unqualified for the specialty court that’s designed to resolve business-to-business disputes faster and establish both consistency in the legal process and expertise among judges who would hear those kinds of cases, which include liquidations, trade-secret disputes, noncompete contracts and shareholder disagreements.
While corporate attorneys were upset to see the docket go — many believe the docket is good for businesses because of how it expedites their cases — judges wanted more control over their own court.
“My bench is very adamant that the way our judges are being vetted with the new Supreme Court was not how we envisioned it,” administrative Judge John J. Russo told Crain’s in 2015. “And if there is any chance of the docket continuing, that vetting process would be something we would want to get rid of.”
After the local commercial docket was disbanded, a group of Cleveland attorneys set out to lobby the state to change the way the commercial docket judges are selected. Their motivation was simply to see the local docket restored.
This spring, that movement paid off as the Supreme Court changed its rules. The key change is that docket judges are now simply approved by a majority vote of local general division judges.
“The bench felt the rule change met our criteria for inclusion of our jurists while addressing the Supreme Court’s desire to make sure that a judge on the commercial docket is fully prepared for the unique challenges of those cases,” said Russo in a statement about the docket’s restoration.
The updated Supreme Court rules also require local courts to appoint commercial docket judges to a minimum three-year term, in addition to requiring potential candidates to have served in the general division for at least three consecutive years within the prior six years, or at least have seven years of substantial practice as a commercial or business-related litigator.
“The impetus for the changes was to respond to the concerns of the courts,” said Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor in a statement in the spring following the rule changes. “It is an evolving matter. If the original standards/requirements were proven over time to impede rather enhance a county’s ability to have a commercial docket, the Supreme Court responded with the modifications, after a careful vetting of the concerns.”
“I am incredibly optimistic and pleased to see the commercial docket returning to Cuyahoga County,” he said. “I’m confident it will be a good thing for both the legal system and the business community.”
He expects Cleveland’s corporate lawyers will be quite pleased.
“It was a long road and there were very valid viewpoints on both sides of the topic,” added Ciano regarding the debate surrounding the issue. “I’m just really pleased at the end of the day that this specialized court will be reinstalled. I think the nuance of the commercial matters deserves differing treatment. And I think that the legal community will welcome this.”