The idea of a specialty court isn't new. Florida's 20 judicial circuits already have courts that specialize in probate, traffic, family or juvenile cases, but attempts to create a similar business court in Miami-Dade have failed.
In late June, Chief Judge Belvin Perry signed an order authorizing the court for the 9th Circuit, which covers Orange and Osceola counties. To preside over the court, he named Circuit Judge Thomas Smith, who had 20 years' experience as an attorney in business litigation before becoming a judge in the circuit's criminal division last year.
The court will hear only civil cases involving business entities, such as shareholder disputes, contract disputes, unfair competition and intellectual property disputes. It will not hear appeals, collection actions involving individuals, zoning issues, construction disputes or consumer claims regarding personal injury or product liability.
In deliberating the wisdom of creating the court, officials identified more than 3,000 pending cases that would be suitable for business court -- nearly twice a judge's typical caseload. The court committee that recommended the change also contends the court could make central Florida a more attractive place to do business by removing some legal uncertainty.
"We're creating a court in which the judge will be active in managing the cases," Smith says. "That means the cases will be resolved faster -- and ultimately cheaper for the client."
Smith cites a number of advantages to having a business court. With a single judge hearing business cases, local lawyers will learn how the judge is likely to rule on certain issues -- which may prevent lawsuits from even being filed. And using the expertise born of experience, Smith hopes he will be able to handle more easily those complicated cases that would excessively tax another judge's time and resources.
While the notions of predictability, aggressive case management and judicial expertise are laudable, some attorneys think a business court may turn out to be an unneeded venture into too small a niche.
"I think there is an efficiency involved with having a judge handle just one type of case," says Pat McGee, an Orlando attorney with 20 years' experience handling commercial litigation. "But it's all going to be in the application. We want to be optimistic that it will work, but it can also be a black hole for business cases, and we'll just have to see how it works out."
IN THE NEWS
Cape Canaveral -- The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex topped the list of family-friendly tourist attractions compiled by TripAdvisor.com, a travel research website. The complex beat out such perennial favorites as Disney World, the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Canyon.
Deland -- Florida Gourmet Foods has bought the 35,000-sq.-ft. Holiday House building at DeLand Airport Industrial Park. The company plans to renovate the building before deciding which of its operations to relocate there from the company's Patterson Avenue headquarters.
Allergy Immuno Technologies, a moribund but publicly held California biotech company, is buying Ball Products, which makes tennis court equipment and shade fabrics. As a separate deal, Ball Products President Larry Ball purchased a majority ownership stake in Allergy Immuno Technologies. The move essentially allows Ball Products to become a publicly traded company without making an initial public offering.
Kissimmee -- Tupperware (NYSE-TUP) abandoned its retail experiment after selling in Target stores for about eight months. The company says the venture took the wind out of the party sales that have been the company's mainstay.
Lake Mary -- EBC Office Centers closed its mini-suite operation after occupancy fell below 45%. The company's Maitland and Celebration operations remain open.
Leesburg -- Elberta Crate & Box closed its Lake County plant, laying off 75 to 80 people. The company blamed slower sales to produce growers, which led to a large backlog of inventory. About 20 employees were kept on temporarily while inventory was sold.
Melbourne -- LiveTV, a subsidiary of JetBlue Airways, will add 42 positions in Melbourne and Orlando. The company, which installs television screens in the seats of airplanes and surveillance monitors in cabins, is benefiting from JetBlue's expansion and a contract with Canadian airline WestJet Airlines.
AirNet Communications Corp. (Nasdaq-ANCC), teetering on the brink of being delisted, landed a pair of multimillion-dollar contracts and a long-awaited finance package. The deals pushed the company's stock price above the threshold Nasdaq requires to remain on the board.
Orlando -- AppliCote Associates was awarded a NASA contract to develop a process that will implant single atoms in semiconductor material. The technology could be a key to developing manufacturing technologies in space because the resulting products are more resistant to radiation and temperature fluctuations.
Emily Bavar Kelly, the former Orlando Sentinel reporter who first reported in 1965 that Walt Disney was buying up large tracts of land in central Florida using dummy corporations, died July 28. She was 88.
Port Canaveral -- Disney Cruise Line will revamp its itineraries next year, making seven-night Caribbean cruises on the Disney Magic to new destinations and adding a 10-night holiday cruise during the Christmas season.
Viera -- Matthew Development and Atlanta-based Cousins Properties are planning a 415,000-sq.-ft. retail center anchored by a 16-screen theater. The Avenue Viera will be an open-air shopping and entertainment venue.
EXPANSIONS ON HOLD
ORLANDO -- The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority will renovate the two oldest parts of the passenger terminal while it waits for traffic to rebound enough to warrant resuming construction of the $800-million south terminal, once scheduled to open in 2002 but now likely delayed until at least 2012.