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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Judge of NH’s new business court would follow business model

NASHUA – The state’s new business court intends to function much like a business does: promptly and mindful of customers’ needs.

That essentially is the promise of the court’s only judge, Richard McNamara.

“The court is there to do as little or as much as the parties want,” McNamara told an audience Wednesday at a Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce breakfast. The court will either offer simple guidance or more involved mediation, he said.

Courts typically don’t make customer satisfaction a priority; administering justice tops the list. But the Business and Commercial Dispute Docket, as the state business court is formally called, isn’t a typical court.

Litigants use the court voluntarily. Parties want a solution and don’t mind forgoing the traditional path of seeking a resolution in the superior or supreme courts, McNamara said.

McNamara hears cases involving bankruptcy, business dissolution, fraud, bank transactions and real estate titles, among other things.

An attorney and former president of the New Hampshire Bar Association, McNamara was appointed in October, and the court opened its docket in December. The court was created to lessen the case load of the superior and supreme courts. The business court is in Merrimack County Superior Court in Concord. “It was important to be perceived as sitting in a court,” McNamara said.

In forming the new court, McNamara worked with the judiciary, legislative and executive branches and also sought the input of the business community, he said.

As business leaders suggested, McNamara said he understands that a case needs to move quickly through the system to lessen losses that would otherwise occur if the matter dragged.

The court hasn’t functioned long enough to gauge the time saved through this process, said state Supreme Court Justice Gary Hicks, who shared the dais with McNamara. But similar courts in the United States have shown that as much as half of the time normally spent in litigation can be eliminated, he said. “It’s why these courts are popular across the country,” Hicks said.

McNamara said the business court can prove useful for cases that need expedient decisions for matters such as trade secret disputes, breaches of contract and purchase agreements.

McNamara would like the court to soon have a panel of business people who can be assigned individual cases in their areas of speciality for mediation.

He would also like to implement an electronic docket system for case filings but acknowledged the state has a limited budget.

McNamara and Hicks also discussed how more than a decade ago, businesses kept mostly paper files. Now, legal discovery comprises mostly the review of electronic data, and because there is so much of it, the process takes longer and costs more money, they said.

The law in this area is underdeveloped and still vague, McNamara said.

Albert McKeon can be reached at 594-5832 or amckeon@nashuatelegraph.com.