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Business delayed may be business denied. The original saying is about justice, not business, but Michigan Gov. John Engler believes it applies to both. That’s why he has proposed the nation’s first “cybercourt.” Designed to resolve business and commercial disputes, particularly those involving technology companies, the court would not just permit but require that all communication be transmitted electronically. Documents would be sent over the Internet using secure methods of transmission. Video or audioconferencing would be used for opening and closing statements and examinations of witnesses. A judge and clerk would sit in a courtroom surrounded by screens on which lawyers and witnesses would periodically appear from, and then disappear into, cyberspace. The court would represent more than a mere convenience, particularly for technology companies, Engler said in an interview. “You’re dealing with entities that move at warp speed,” he said. “And we’ve got to realize that they can be created and go out of existence in the time it takes a lawsuit to move through normal channels.” Engler hopes that the new court’s “rocket docket” will help make Michigan as attractive to technology companies as Delaware has been to public corporations. It’s the same impetus that led New York, North Carolina and, most recently, Massachusetts to create special courts to speed the resolution of business disputes in their jurisdictions. It could become a reality as soon as next year, if Michigan’s legislature passes the bill it will consider this fall. Many details remain unresolved and are expected to be thrashed out by a special task force next month. But in its current form, the bill makes clear that all trials would be bench trials and defendants would have the right to remove their cases to a regular court within 14 days of the deadline for filing an answer to a complaint. The bill made it out of the Civil Law and Judiciary Committee with a unanimous vote and is expected to be taken up by the full state House of Representatives in October. Still, there’s no guarantee it will find smooth sailing. Since it would create an entirely new court, Michigan’s constitution requires that the bill pass with two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate. “I’m encouraged by virtue of the committee voting it out as they did,” said Rep. Marc Shulman, the bill’s sponsor. Engler and Shulman are Republicans, and the party commands majorities in both houses, but not the numbers to pass the bill without Democratic support. Accordingly, Shulman and his colleagues have listened to the concerns of Democrats as well as the State Bar of Michigan and have incorporated many of their suggestions in the revised bill (proposed substitute H-3, listed under House Bill 4140, at www.michigancybercourt.net). QUALIFIED SUPPORT Rep. Steven Adamini, a Democrat on the committee that approved the bill, offered qualified support. “This is clearly the way the courts are moving in the future,” he said. On the other hand, he wondered: “How much are we willing to spend in hard economic times to create something we’ve been able to do without for all these many years?” Though no cost projections have been produced, no one suggests that either startup or ongoing costs will be covered by the proposed $200 per case filing fee. A lawyer himself, though admittedly na�ve when it comes to technology, Adamini said he has lingering doubts about the court’s ability to accommodate and authenticate all forms of evidence — despite reassurance by the “technology gurus.” The saving grace of the proposal, he added, is that no party would be forced to use the court. Another committee Democrat, Rep. Jack Minore, called the plan a noble experiment. If it passes, he said, its success will depend on “the comfort level or the discomfort level of the attorneys practicing in it.” Minore’s own comfort level was raised considerably by a demonstration performed for the committee last May. Appearing by videoconference, Fred Lederer, a professor at Virginia’s William and Mary Law School, introduced the viewers to Courtroom 21 (www. courtroom21.net), a model high-tech facility. Lederer’s talk, and the very mode of its transmission, helped Minore see what they were contemplating. “Sometimes you see a talking head on the screen rather than a talking head on the stand” and “that’s the most significant difference,” Minore said. The issue that seems to generate the most concern is the selection of judges. Jeffrey G. Raphelson, chairman-elect of the state bar’s computer law section and a partner at Detroit’s Bodman, Longley & Dahling, called the court “a great idea,” but noted that the bill doesn’t require direct election of its judges, which violates the state constitution. Shulman said he was unaware of this objection. “If it is an issue, we need to look at it closer.” Overall, he’s optimistic about his bill’s prospects. He hopes at least a pilot project will be in place next year, he said.

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