High-tech court, under the purview of tech-savvy judges, will handle disputes involving tech companies
Michigan Gov. John Engler signed a bill into law Jan. 9 creating the nation's
first "cybercourt," a high-speed, high-tech court to handle the swift resolution
of disputes for technology-related companies.
The cybercourt, which will require a $200 filing fee, would have concurrent
jurisdiction over business and commercial actions — including those involving
information technology, software, or Web site development, maintenance or
hosting — in which the amount in controversy exceeds $25,000. Technology-savvy
judges, rather than juries, would hear complaints.
According to the legislation, the cybercourt would take advantage of
video and audioconferencing technology, the Internet and other communications
technology to hear matters — in essence, becoming a virtual court.
Engler first mentioned the cybercourt in his 2001 State of the State
address as part of a plan to lure IT companies to the state. In a prepared
statement Jan. 9, he said, "it will make Michigan uniquely attractive for
the New Economy businesses the same way the state of Delaware has had an
advantage for incorporation of major public companies."
But Judge Donald Shelton, presiding judge of the Washtenaw County Trial
Court's Civil/Criminal Division in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the court's importance
is far reaching.
"I think the real significance is not what it specifically ends up doing
in the commercial litigation area; it will be, in effect, a prototype for
electronic filing in an electronic jurisdiction that can be applied to all
areas," he said, referring to filing, accessing and storing records electronically.
"The short-term motivation is to make the courts more responsive to the
immediate commercial needs, but the long-term benefit would be the further
digitization of our entire court system."
The Michigan Supreme Court and the Michigan Bar Association are currently
drawing up specific rules for the virtual court, including for the selection
and number of judges who will serve. Shelton said issues such as verifying
signatures, filing affidavits and security would need to be hammered out.
But one barrier could be participation, which is voluntary, he said.
"Once the plaintiff files in the cybercourt, the defendant can opt out
to go to a traditional court," he said. "I suspect that's what will happen
here. The number of cases in cybercourt will be less than what the legislation
But speed and convenience are incentives to use it, he said. "If you
have both parties motivated by that, then the cybercourt will work extremely
well," he said.
According to an aide to Rep. Mark Shulman, who sponsored the bill, up
to $2 million has been earmarked from the state judiciary budget to fund
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