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Maryland, with the enactment of Rule 16-205 on Jan. 1, has become the first state in the country to adopt a specialized court for business and technology cases. This specialized system is an effort to respond to the increased complexity of these cases arising in Maryland, which has one of the largest concentrations of bioscience and aerospace companies in the country and hopes to attract more such business by creation of this new court. According to a report by the Maryland Business and Technology Court Task Force, one of the goals of the new system is to provide Maryland “with a unique opportunity to substantially improve its perception among the business and technology communities as a preferred place to do business. In the competitive national market for business, establishment of such a program will serve to increase Maryland’s reputation as a place where disputes involving substantial business interests are effectively and efficiently resolved, thus increasing Maryland’s reputation as a favorable forum.” See www.courts.state.md.us/finalb&treport.pdf. Other states, including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California, have created specialized courts or tracks to address complex business litigation, but none except Maryland has gone the extra step and embraced “high-tech” as a component of the specialized case management system. Under Rule 16-205, each circuit court in the state is charged to establish a special track for business and technology cases; create a procedure for assigning cases to that track; assign specific judges to the program, who are specially trained in business and technology; and develop alternative dispute resolution proceedings to be conducted by individuals specially trained in business and technology. The Circuit Court, which sits in each county of Maryland and in Baltimore city, is the state’s court of general jurisdiction. The program contemplates that two or three judges in each county shall be specially assigned to the program, but recognizes that the volume of these specialized cases will be far greater in urban counties such as Montgomery County than in rural areas such as Caroline County on the state’s Eastern Shore. SeeAlisa Bralove, “Tech Court’s Time Has Come — So Where is Everybody?” The Daily Record Maryland Business Law Watch,February 2003. By March, most circuit courts in Maryland had established their procedures for implementation of the program. SeeJanet Stidman Eveleth, “Maryland Launches First Business and Technology Court in Nation,” MSBA Bar Bulletin,March 2003. SPECIALIZED TREATMENT The touchstone for assignment to this track is a judicial determination “that the action presents commercial or technological issues of such a complex or novel nature that specialized treatment is likely to improve the administration of justice.” Maryland Rule of Procedure §16-205(c). Factors to be considered are: “(1) the nature of the relief sought; (2) the number and diverse interests of the parties; (3) the anticipated nature and extent of pretrial discovery and motions; (4) whether the parties agree to waive venue for the hearing of motions and other pretrial matters; (5) the degree of novelty and complexity of the factual and legal issues; (6) whether business or technology issues predominate over other issues presented in the action; and (7) the willingness of the parties to participate in [alternative dispute resolution] procedures.” A party to the action may request special assignment to the program, or alternatively, the circuit administrative judge on his or her own initiative may assign the action to the program. Promptly after special assignment, the assigned judge is required to hold a scheduling conference (in accordance with Rule 2-504.1) and issue a scheduling order (in accordance with Rule 2-504) that sets forth deadlines for identification of experts, written notice of intent to use computer-generated evidence (see Rule 2-504.3), completion of discovery, and filing of dispositive motions. The scheduling order may also include limitations on discovery including limitations on interrogatories, depositions, and other forms of discovery; the date by which additional parties must be joined; an order directing the case to alternative dispute resolution; and an order providing for the designation of a neutral expert to be called as the court’s witness. ADDRESSING CONCERNS The Maryland Business and Technology Court Task Force, whose report led to the enactment of Rule 16-205, found some concern expressed among the bench and bar that creation of the Business and Technology Case Management Program might lead to an unwarranted proliferation of specialty courts. Likewise, some critics argued that there were an insufficient number of cases to warrant these new procedures. Looking to the experience of other jurisdictions that had implemented special tracks for business cases, notably Philadelphia, the task force found that these concerns were illusory. There has been no trend toward fragmentation of the court system generally, and within a year of its implementation, two judges in Philadelphia specially assigned to its “commerce court” were occupied full-time with complex business cases. The Maryland program is still in its infancy, and it will be some months, if not a year or more, before its full impact is felt. The specialized training required for the judges assigned to the program will be an ongoing process, and the education of lawyers and clients to exploit this new program that is tailor-made for complex business and technology disputes will also be an ongoing process. If the experience of other states with analogous programs limited to business cases is a guide, however, it is clear that the Business and Technology Case Management Program in Maryland will simplify docket management generally by segregating these complex matters to a single track. It also will facilitate dispute resolution in such matters both through intensive alternative dispute resolution with specially trained mediators and through judicial disposition by specially trained judges. Thus it will serve the ends of both commerce and justice. Charles S. Fax is a senior partner at Baltimore’s Shapiro Sher Guinot & Sandler. This article first appeared in the American Lawyer Media newspaperThe National Law Journal.

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