State chancery court marks one year of handling business law
CHEYENNE – Wyoming’s chancery court, the newest court in the state, marked one year of service last week.
The chancery court exists to resolve commercial, business and trust cases on a quicker schedule than is possible in existing district courts, which handle many other kinds of cases. When it was created in March 2019 by the Legislature, Wyoming joined the roughly half of U.S. states that have business courts.
“To put it simply, business courts benefit state economies by providing cost- and time-effective forums for resolving complex or time-pressing business cases,” chancery court Director Ben Burningham told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “And it also has the potential to benefit the judicial system by removing some time-consuming cases from the general dockets.”
District courts, which exist in all 23 counties and are organized into nine judicial districts, handle felony criminal cases, as well as juvenile and probate matters.
Having a specialized court also means those who work within the court gain deeper expertise as time goes on, making the process more efficient, Burningham said.
In its first year, 15 new cases were filed in the state’s chancery court, he said. These included 36 different parties and 29 attorneys representing these parties.
Among the different types of case heard so far are breach of contract, internal business affairs, trust code business agreement, breach of fiduciary duty and business transactions involving financial institutions. Under state statute, there are 20 types of cases that may be filed in the state’s chancery court.
The number of cases the court saw since opening Dec. 1, 2021, is on par with other states’ first years operating business courts, according to Burningham, who is also chief legal officer for Wyoming’s judicial branch. West Virginia saw 14 cases in its court’s first year of operation, and Iowa’s court saw 10.
“I’d say 15 cases for a jurisdiction of our size in the court’s first year, it’s a promising start,” he said. “The important point is, almost all business courts that started as pilot projects or new courts have become full-time fixtures in state judicial systems. And the successful trajectory of business courts nationwide suggests that Wyoming’s chancery court will continue to experience a steady increase in new case filings.”
Since the court’s start late last year, two district court judges have handled chancery court cases on top of their existing caseloads. Laramie County District Judge Steven Sharpe and Sweetwater County District Judge Richard Lavery “are experienced in business and trust litigation,” Burningham said.
State statute currently requires a full-time chancery court judge to be appointed by January 2024. The court director said it’s unclear when this appointment will take place, as the Legislature has and may again push back this hiring date.
In 2023, a courtroom will be outfitted for chancery court in Casper’s Thyra Thomson State Office Building, but the space won’t be used until a full-time judge is hired, Burningham said. Most chancery court proceedings currently take place remotely.
Wyoming’s new business court also was the first state trial court to use electronic filing, which is slowly being rolled out in district courts, including in Laramie County. Despite some “growing pains” that came along with its implementation, Burningham said the court is “hitting our stride.”
“It’s much easier for the litigants to file something from the convenience of their office or home online than it is to have to go visit a clerk’s office and file something traditionally, in person,” he said. “It’s also easier for a court with limited staff to handle those filings and maintain those filing.”
E-filing is currently mandatory in chancery court, but is still optional in district courts.
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