This Court Means Business
The success of Orlando's high-tech, no-nonsense business court has others looking to follow suit
Then, there are two things Orlando business lawyers really, really love about the 9th Judicial Circuit's business court: The judges, not the lawyers, determine case schedules. And they stick to them.
"It puts you on a tight, defined schedule to learn your case, know your case and try your case," says Bud Bennington, head of business litigation for Shutts & Bowen in Orlando. "And you'd better be prepared because you are going before a no-nonsense judge with years of business litigation experience."
The no-nonsense judge is Renee Roche, a longtime business lawyer appointed to the circuit court in 1995. In January 2004, Chief Judge Belvin Perry tapped Roche for the new Orange County Complex Commercial Litigation Division, otherwise known as business court. The division specializes in complex business cases such as antitrust, intellectual property, franchise and unfair competition cases. Any monetary controversy has to be in excess of $150,000.
The business court -- only a handful of other states have them, including New York and New Jersey -- was the brainchild of Orange County Circuit Judge Thomas B. Smith. He considers the court an economic development tool. A former business litigator himself, Smith wanted to give Orlando-area businesses greater certainty, consistency and efficiency in the courtroom -- with judges who know business law, make consistent rulings and move cases through the system quickly.
Two years after the court opened, it appears to be meeting those goals. Of more than 1,200 complex business cases that have gone before Judge Roche, 70% have closed. This year, the court added a second judge and a full-time staff lawyer. Attorneys who practice in the court say having judges experienced in complex business law offers a greater degree of predictability. And they say cases tend to settle quickly because the judges require early and extensive case management. "We're getting thoughtful review and decisions -- and decisions in a timely manner -- which wasn't always the case in the past," says Jerry Linscott, a partner in Baker Hostetler's litigation group.
The business court has features not often seen in civil court in Florida: First, electronic filing. Upon filing, cases immediately go to a judge for review. The judge sets up a case-management conference within 120 days. Case management is not just for the lawyers; the clients have to show up, too. And the lawyers have to prepare extensive reports for that very first meeting. "Judge Roche will have spent a tremendous amount of time reviewing the briefs and the motions," says Chris Skambis, another frequent practitioner in business court. "She doesn't have to spend an hour in a hearing getting caught up."
Orlando's success has judges and lawyers in other Florida circuits considering business courts. The 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County and the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami-Dade both have sent teams to scout out Roche's high-tech courtroom. "It's all part of giving Florida a positive business climate to foster economic growth," says Roche.
"Once you start asking hard questions, requiring quality written products in support of legal positions and holding intensive hearings to get to the bottom of disputes, you'd be amazed how these complicated cases have a magical way of resolving themselves."