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Business courts in Florida: More, please

In 2004, the 9th Judicial Circuit in Orlando established the state's first court devoted to resolving complex business disputes. Since then, the court, which serves Orange and Osceola counties, hasn't lacked for work: At any given time, the court's two judges, Lisa Taylor Munyon and Alice Blackwell, have between 275 and 375 complex business cases each on their dockets. Handling such matters day after day gives business court judges the expertise to move these cases through the system faster and takes pressure off the rest of the judicial system.

"Because I have had an opportunity to oversee a number of complex cases, for example construction defect cases, I have a better sense of how those cases need to be managed at the outset," Munyon says. "If you haven't had the opportunity to deal with those cases, then it's very difficult to know what needs to be done to move them forward expeditiously."

Moving complex cases through the system faster helps Florida businesses by lessening one of the biggest uncertainties of business litigation: How long will the case drag on? "I've found the business courts really useful in terms of managing these cases, which otherwise might drag through the system," says Russell Landy, a business law litigator at Damian & Valori in Miami. Merrick L. Gross, a commercial litigator at Carlton Fields in Miami, thinks the courts have also brought "more consistency in rulings, at least at the trial level."

Following Orlando's lead, Miami and Tampa instituted business courts in 2007. In 2008, Broward County created a slightly different version that handles some disputes of more than $150,000. Obvious candidates for business courts that don't have them yet include big counties such as Palm Beach and Duval. Creating the courts is not a pricey endeavor. It's basically the cost of salary and benefits for a judge and couple of assistants — circuit court judges in Florida earn more than $140,000 a year. The money would have to come from the Legislature, which traditionally allocates less than 1% of the state's budget to the judicial branch.

Another inexpensive suggestion: Increase staff at the existing business courts, where even a single additional employee could speed up cases. In Orlando, for example, the entire business court staff consists of two judges, two judicial assistants and a case manager who keeps track of each case. The judges also share a staff attorney. It should be noted that, apart from their complex business litigation workload, the judges will also handle about 2,000 residential foreclosure cases this year. Munyon says adding another staff attorney to help with writing and research would make a big difference and enable her to "spend more time in the courtroom."