PORTLAND – Maine’s Business and Consumer Court is entering a new phase, with gains in staffing and a new base of operations to help streamline the handling of complex cases.

The court has faced challenges since it opened in June 2007. As initially envisioned, the court was to have two judges, two clerks, a court marshal and a court monitor — all dedicated to the specialized court full time.

The staff ended up consisting of two judges, splitting their time between the business court and other duties, and two clerks. The situation worked until one of the clerk positions was reassigned elsewhere in the state.

Now the court is rebounding from what Superior Court Chief Justice Thomas Humphrey calls its “resource-deprived” era. He expects more businesses to make use of it as they learn about the changes.

“It’s made a difference operationally in terms of our dealings with our clients, our customers — the litigants,” he said. “I think we’re far more efficient and effective in dealing with their cases.”

David Soley, a real estate attorney with Bernstein Shur, said the court is important for bringing business to Maine. Businesses that contact him with questions about Maine’s business environment almost always ask whether the state has a business court, he said.

“Businesses want to go to a place where they know their issues will be resolved reasonably, quickly, fairly and efficiently,” Soley said.

The number of business courts has increased from three in 1993 to more than 40 in 2010, according to the National Center for State Courts. The specialized courts are in various types of jurisdictions in 22 states.

Superior Court Justices John Nivison and Andrew Horton each will have half of their duties with the business court. Nivison’s other duties are based in Augusta and Horton’s are in Bath.

Humphrey originally planned to be one of the full-time business court judges but found that his administrative duties didn’t allow for that. He will continue to handle some business court cases.

Danielle Young joined as the court’s clerk in March. Her assistant clerk, Barry Lucier, came on board in April. The two now work on the ground floor of the courthouse in Portland, where Humphrey sits. The business court clerk previously worked in West Bath because that’s where space was available.

Business court will continue to be held around the state. The locations are determined by factors such as where the parties or expert witnesses are based.

The court is meant to handle complex cases that could get bogged down on a regular court docket. It provides individualized attention, including an early case-management conference to set a firm schedule for each case. It also makes use of video conferencing and a “poor man’s version” of an electronic filing system, which allows filings by email that must be followed up with paper copies.

A study of 2010 cases showed that the average business court case involved more than 13 parties, which means lots of pleadings, motions and communication, Humphrey said.

The cases need hands-on management, said Horton, who joined the business court in January. Without close attention, the discovery can end up being massive, with requests for thousands of documents piling up as the parties wait for decisions on motions, he said.

“That can quickly go downhill,” he said. “The dynamic of the case could become less healthy.”

Eric Wycoff, a lawyer with Pierce Atwood, said he did notice the business court slowing down, but the situation wasn’t bad.

“The judges — they’re very good,” he said. “They’re typically very well prepared, they understand the cases and they can provide some individualized attention to the case.” 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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