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Lawmakers plan business court push

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The creation of  a separate business court system through a constitutional amendment is one of the criminal justice reforms Gov. Nathan Deal is pushing this year.

“Such a stable legal environment will help ensure that we remain the No. 1 state in which to do business,” he told members of the Georgia Chamber at their annual Eggs & Issues Breakfast this week.

Rep. Christian Coomer, R-Cartersville, served on the Court Reform Council that  included the measure in its recommendations. Modifications to the state’s administrative law system and sovereign immunity law also are planned.

An attorney and the House majority whip, Coomer said the business court would handle technically complex disputes that go beyond the expertise of many superior and state courts.

“It would have to be very high-dollar and between what we call ‘sophisticated litigants,’” he said. “We’re not talking about car wrecks or a small business disagreement about how their company should dissolve. It’s not something that would affect most people; it would be for big companies.”

Details, such as a dollar threshhold, are still being worked out, but Coomer said he would be a co-sponsor of the legislation. A resolution setting up a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds supermajority to pass the Georgia General Assembly.

Deal has promoted accountability courts — Floyd County has drug and mental health courts — under the superior court system, but a new court system would need voter approval.

“Without a constitutional amendment, (establishing a business court) would be a decision of superior courts,” Coomer said. “The governor decided to create it as a separate, stand-alone court.”

A number of states have set up similar courts and the council looked at several models. In some places there is a single court based in the state capital or large city. Others have district or regional business courts.

Coomer said Georgia’s model must take into account state law that gives litigants the right to be sued in the county where their primary office is located. That makes the North Carolina model “the most functionally attractive,” he said.

“It would essentially be a traveling court, traveling around the state to handle disputes,” he said.

He said he would be keeping a watchful eye on the legislative language as court reform proposals are submitted.

“It’s important to me to make sure the constitutional benefits that exist for individuals and companies are not wiped away by new — and necessary — evolutions of the court system,” Coomer said.