Michigan creates cybercourt

Enrolled House Bill No. 4140

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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

envisions."

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

the cybercourt.

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