Track set up for business lawsuits

City circuit judges get special training to expedite cases

January 24, 2001|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Circuit Court is implementing a program that will streamline business and technology lawsuits, educate the judges handling them and move the cases through the system more efficiently and with more consistency.

The program, still in its early stages, will essentially create a separate path for cases about business and technology so that judges familiar with the subject matter handle them and there is a consensus in rulings. The judges also will publish opinions on the court's Web site.

"In recent times there has been an interest in and an emphasis on technology issues," said Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr., one of the judges implementing the program.

Administrative Judge Ellen M. Heller, who is also initiating the program, said the new way of handling business cases aims to change a perception that lawsuits involving companies are expensive and extremely time consuming. The new system, which is expected to take much of the year to get running, is expected to save time and money.

"We're at the beginning of a very exciting road," Heller said.

Heller said there are no costs associated with the program, which is open to all judges who want to participate. An advisory council of professors, judges, lawyers and businessmen will establish a structure for the program and a plan for managing business and technology cases.

The advisory council, which has convened once so far, is scheduled to meet monthly.

The judges who choose to join the case management program would take courses on business law and technology issues - possibly at the Maryland Judicial Institute in Annapolis - and would meet periodically to discuss cases.

"I think it's great for the business community in Baltimore," said Lisa M. Fairfax, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Law and a member of the advisory board. "It's going to give them some increased confidence in the court and in the court's expertise in the business areas."

The effort is part of the Circuit Court's Differentiated Case Management program, used to organize the civil docket in city courts.

The decision to create a business and technology case management program comes after other cities - such as New York and Philadelphia - have established similar initiates.

"It's a conversation that's going on around the country," Heller said.

Maryland, also, has taken part in the conversation. A task force has been created to look at the feasibility of a bill that would authorize the Court of Appeals to set up business and technology divisions in the state's circuit courts.

Eric B. Easton, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a member of the advisory board, said programs like the one being set up in Baltimore are not unusual.

"I think the rise of the Internet and biotechnology have made the courts a little concerned that maybe they need to get up to speed in some of these areas," he said.

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