[Note: This post was updated on March 2, 2015, to add the name of the Chair of the Business Court Advisory Committee, David Rosenbaum. I mean, I forgot the Chair! I’m sorry for the omission.]

A pilot program that creates a new superior court venue for commercial disputes was established by the Arizona Supreme Court this month. The three-year program will launch in July and function in Maricopa County.

The program’s details are set out in Administrative Order 2015-15, issued on February 18, and it followed on the work of a Business Court Advisory Committee, created by the Supreme Court in May 2014. This Administrative Order also adopts new Rule of Civil Procedure 8.1 and two new forms that practitioners and the court would use (included as an attachment to the order).

The three judges named to the new program for the pilot period are Judges Dawn Bergin, Roger Brodman and Christopher Whitten.

Rules 8.1(b), (c) and (d), included in the order (which you can read here), set out the case types that could be (and could not be) handled by the new venue.

Not to be lost amid the new development is the hard work and creativity of the original Court-created committee. You can read all their names and affiliations in Appendix A to A.O. 2014-48. But just to make it easier for you, congratulations and thanks to (alphabetically): Chair David Rosenbaum, Michael Arkfeld, Ray Billotte, Judge Kyle Bryson, Andrew Federhar, Glenn Hamer, Bill Klain, Mark Larson, Lisa Loo, Judge Scott Rash (appointed in A.O. 2014-58), Judge John Rea, Trish Refo, Marcus Reinkensmeyer, Mark Rogers, Nicole Stanton, Steve Tully, Steven Weinberger and Judge Christopher Whitten (appointed in A.O. 2014-58).

And here is a release from the Court:

“Civil commercial disputes may soon be handled in a new venue thanks to an Administrative Order by the Arizona Supreme Court that was signed this week. In May 2014, the Supreme Court established an 18-member advisory committee to study the feasibility of establishing a special venue within the Superior Courts to address the unique needs of businesses engaged in commercial civil litigation. The Superior Court in Maricopa County is in the process of launching a three-year pilot Commercial Court program.”

“‘This court recognizes that disputes between companies or involving the internal governance of businesses often raise issues that require specialized knowledge and that implicate potentially expensive discovery. By appointing experienced judges and establishing processes shaped for commercial civil litigation, we hope to show that these disputes can be resolved more efficiently and economically,’ Chief Justice Scott Bales explained.”

“The advisory committee cited several reasons that a Commercial Court would be beneficial to Arizona, including:

  • To make Arizona a more favorable forum for resolving business disputes;
  • To improve the business community’s access to justice;
  • To expeditiously resolve business cases and reduce litigation costs;
  • To improve the quality of justice; and
  • To gain the business community’s support for the State of Arizona’s dispute resolution system.”

“The pilot program is slated to begin July 1, 2015, giving the Superior Court in Maricopa County time to re-assign workload as necessary and implement other administrative steps in advance of taking on its first docket of cases.”

“The establishment of a Commercial Court is budget neutral and will be achieved through the use of existing judges and resources that are currently in place at the trial court level. Judges Dawn Bergin, Roger Brodman and Christopher Whitten are the three judges who will hear Commercial Court cases.”

“Once a case is assigned to Commercial Court, there will be a mandatory early scheduling conference to help address discovery issues and adopt an effective and efficient schedule for progress of the case.”

Hon Michael D Ryan portrait

A new portrait of Hon. Michael D. Ryan, dedicated on April 25, 2014.

On Friday, April 25, a terrific lawyer and judge was honored with the dedication of an oil painting depicting him. The jurist recognized was Justice Michael D. Ryan.

You can read Justice Ryan’s obituary here. I wrote about him in Arizona Attorney Magazine here.

Today, I share a great story about the event written by the staff of the Superior Court for Maricopa County. I was very sorry to have to miss the event, but I am pleased that Mike Ryan’s friendly visage has become a permanent part of the courthouse.

Here’s the story:

On April 25, Superior Court celebrated the distinguished career of The Honorable Michael D. Ryan with a portrait dedication ceremony.

Justices, judges, former judges, court staff, friends and family attended the ceremony at the Old Courthouse in Phoenix to pay their respect to a brilliant legal mind who dedicated 24 years to working in the Judiciary. Justice Ryan served as a Superior Court Judge, a Court of Appeals Judge and an Arizona Supreme Court Justice.

During the ceremony, Justice Ryan’s wife, Karen, and son, Kevin, unveiled the portrait and Presiding Judge Norman Davis, Commissioner R. Jeffrey Woodburn and Retired Judge Ron Reinstein spoke on behalf of their friend and former colleague.

Justice Ryan was known as a fair and thoughtful jurist who managed his courtroom in a firm but respectful manner. He was respected by all who appeared before him as well as those who served beside him.

As a Superior Court Judge, he presided over high profile cases such as AzScam, the Phoenix Suns drug case and the criminal trial of Governor Evan Mecham. Prior to joining the Bench, he served as a Maricopa County prosecutor.

Justice Ryan received his Juris Doctorate from Arizona State University. He also was the recipient of two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star for his service as a United States Marine Corps platoon commander in the Vietnam War.

ABOTA American Board of Trial Advocates logoWe received word this month about a newly named “Judge of the Year,” an honor bestowed by the Phoenix Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). The 2013 Judge of the Year is Judge A. Craig Blakey II.

(I wrote about last year’s honoree here.)

Congratulations to Judge Blakey, who serves on the Superior Court for Maricopa County. He received the award at a dinner on December 6, and he was recognized for his “integrity, dedication and professionalism.”

According to the court: “Judge Blakey, who was appointed in 2002, is currently assigned to Juvenile Court. He previously served on civil, family and criminal court calendars. He earned his Juris Doctorate from California Western School of Law in 1979 and his Bachelor of Science in American Studies from Northern Arizona University in 1975.”

ABOTA’s mission includes promoting the efficient administration of justice and constant improvement of the law.

Hon. Rosa Mroz, in the February 2005 Arizona Attorney Magazine

Hon. Rosa Mroz, in the February 2005 Arizona Attorney Magazine

There has been ample coverage of the probate court in Maricopa County over the past few years. That’s why good news—and equal time—require that we note a national honor that has come to that court.

This week, the National Association of Court Management awarded Maricopa County Superior Court’s Probate Court with the 2013 Justice Achievement Award. According to a Superior Court news release, the award recognizes comprehensive reform efforts of judicial officers, administrators and court staff over the last three years.

Congratulations to all involved, and especially to Probate Presiding Judge Rosa Mroz (whom we profiled here in Arizona Attorney Magazine).

Here is the court’s news release:

After three years of comprehensive reform, Maricopa County Superior Court’s Probate Court has positioned itself as one of the top probate courts in the Nation.

The National Association of Court Management (NACM), the largest organization of court management professionals in the world, awarded Superior Court’s Probate Court with the 2013 Justice Achievement Award.

Superior Court Presiding Judge Norman Davis said, “It is clear that over the past few years the Maricopa County Probate Court has experienced significant reform and innovation under the able leadership of Probate Presiding Judge Rosa Mroz.  The process of improvement is by its nature perpetual, and the Maricopa County Superior Court has always, and will continue to, strive for excellence in providing the public with the best judicial system possible. My sincere thanks to all who were – and are – involved in the Probate Court system improvements and other reform initiatives.”

The award recognizes the tremendous efforts made by the judicial officers, administrators and court staff that helped transform Probate Court. During the last three years, Probate Court developed a new case management protocol with case differentiation, expanded use of ADR, created a new accountability court, improved communication and information flow between administrative oversight personnel and judicial officers and implemented public education programs and videos.

“The reform and innovations made by the Probate Court could not have happened without the support and dedication of everyone in the department.  They not only implemented these changes, they embraced it.  The common goal of everyone who works in the Probate Court is to serve and protect people unable to care for themselves.  The Probate Court will continue to examine itself and make improvements in furtherance of that goal,” Probate Presiding Judge Rosa Mroz.

The Court will accept the award at the NACM Annual Conference on July 15.

The Justice Achievement Award was established in 1988 to recognize outstanding achievement and meritorious projects that enhance the administration of justice.

In 2010, Superior Court received a Justice Achievement Award for the re-design of its CASA website.

National Adoption Day 2012 Phoenix paper chain

Volunteers, judges and court staff hold a vinyl chain that represents every child adopted on National Adoption Day. Each link has a child’s name written on it. The chain is 12 years old and contains more than 2,000 names. (Photo: Maricopa County Superior Court)

This coming Saturday, November 17, is on track to be another historic event. That’s when the state and nation celebrate National Adoption Day. Once again, Arizona is predicted to have a remarkable day.

I wrote about Adoption Day back in 2008, and the commitment of so many people continues to amaze me.

A scene from National Adoption Day 2008

A scene from National Adoption Day 2008

Unlike the confidentiality that is necessary in almost all juvenile and adoption cases, National Adoption Day is open to the public. So if you’d like to enjoy watching the creation of hundreds of families, stop by the Juvenile Court Center, 3131 West Durango, Phoenix. It is the most fun you will ever have in a courthouse—guaranteed.

And to learn more, here is a video made by the talented folks at the Superior Court for Maricopa County.

Restored cell, Maricopa County Courthouse

former jail cellblock may not sound like the most promising venue for an education center. But a place that had taught a wealth of lessons based on hard knocks got a new lease on life May 31.

That’s the day that the Justice Museum and Learning Center opened in the old Maricopa County Court building. As the court reports:

“The project features a restored cellblock located on the sixth floor of Maricopa County’s historic old courthouse. This project is the result of the hard work of many judicial officers, attorneys, court administrators and community partners. In 2010, Maricopa County Museum and Justice Learning Center Foundation was formed to oversee the construction and opening of the Museum. Through the efforts of the Foundation, more than $100,000 was raised to fund construction and renovation costs. Also, American Express made a generous $50,000 corporate donation.”

I’m especially pleased to see the transformation. Years ago, I accompanied our photographer and author—my former colleague Leslie Ross—as she shot the top floor of the courthouse. We had a week to do that, before the vintage jail cells were ripped out for a planned office suite. I’m happy to see that some of the vintage cells survived to educate another day.

You can see our Arizona Attorney Magazine story from 2002 here.

And here are some photos from the May 31 ribbon-cutting, courtesy of the Superior Court.

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Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery

Last week, I reposted a video created by the Maricopa County Superior Court. It highlighted a terrific event: the one-year anniversary of a court dedicated to veterans issues.

You can view that video at the bottom of this post.

But on Memorial Day, I was pleased to come across another MCSC video from February. It featured the activities surrounding the recent Arizona StandDown. At the event, veterans who have a variety of legal issues are able to have them addressed and resolved, all in a setting that is less intimidating than a courthouse visit.

Here is the video.

And as we watch the next video, regarding the Veterans Court one-year anniversary, it’s hard not to consider the Memorial Day that slipped by yesterday. How heartening it is to see so many members of the legal profession stepping up to create solutions to help those who have served.

Last fall, the Arizona Superior Court for Maricopa County heeded the longtime plea of lawyers when they created an express line for attorneys.

The court recognized the frustration of those bar members who must enter the courthouse often, sometimes more than once a day. To ensure that they’re never late for a trial or calendar call, those lawyers have always had to arrive super-early, just in case there’s a slow-moving line at security.

In October, the new lawyer line was created. But the court personnel have noted that the entrance is used less than they would have expected.

This week, the court issued is a reminder of this great new feature:

Superior Court’s Attorney Express Line

In order to alleviate lawyers waiting in long lines to enter the courthouse with members of the public, Maricopa County Superior Court has designated the First Avenue entrance of the East Court Building for attorneys only.

Once lawyers enter through the new Attorney Express Line, they simply show their State Bar of Arizona membership card and proceed through screening.

“We want everyone to get to court on time,” Security Director Edward DeCoste said. “The new entrance also enhances public safety by eliminating any potential confrontations between attorneys and members of the public.”

Attorneys still may enter through the other existing entrances but they are encouraged to utilize the Attorney Express Line.

“I think it works great,” said Bruce L. Bauman, a family and bankruptcy law attorney. “In the past, I was cutting my court appearances close. The new line is faster and much more convenient. I hope the court continues to make it available.”

Follow the Superior Court on Facebook and Twitter.

Hon. Sandra Day O'Connor

Yesterday, I shared some photos of a great Centennial event. Today, I have a few more, from another historic gathering.

Last Tuesday, the Superior Court for Maricopa County dedicated its new Court Tower. Few government buildings have risen amidst more controversy. Ultimately, though, the structure was completed on time, with no debt, and with an enviable construction-safety record. The dedication ceremony included remarks from retired Associate Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

You may read more about the building here. And to learn even more about the building and its unique features, watch the video created by court staff.

Below are some of my photos from the event.

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Amidst the hubbub of a day marking Arizona’s 100th birthday, a courthouse event may escape your attention.

I reported last November about the opening of the new South Tower of the Maricopa County Superior Court. The demands placed on a writer by the need for punchy headlines made me inscribe “Court Tower Opens.” Of course, that was only partially true.

On Friday, November 11, the courthouse was, indeed, open—for a dedication ceremony. That is when the judges and administrators took possession of the building Certificate of Occupancy. It was a nice occasion.

Today, however, the South Tower is officially open for business. Public tours run from 9:00 a.m. and throughout the day, and the official official official ceremony occurs at 3:00 p.m.

Much to my pleasant surprise, the terrific communications folks at the court have put together a video that describes some of the unique building’s most noteworthy features. The court’s multimedia journalist Kelly Vail and ASU intern Liz Kotalik produced the video called (appropriately) “Quick Tour of the New South Court Tower.”

And as I pointed out before, the Tower has its own web page.

Take a look and try to come on down. I may see you there.