The Commercial and Federal Litigation Section of the New York State Bar Association met yesterday at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan for a pair of panels exploring the future of commercial litigation in the state, with a heavy focus on recently proposed reforms to the Commercial Division.
The first panel, "The Chief Judge's Taskforce Report on Commercial Litigation in the 21st Century: From Ideas to Implementation," looked at how to execute some of the reforms to the Commercial Division proposed last June by the Taskforce on Commercial Litigation, convened by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman nearly a year ago.
The panel was moderated by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye, now of counsel at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, who also cochaired the taskforce. The panelists were former Court of Appeals Judge Howard Levine, now a partner at Whiteman Osterman & Hanna in Albany; Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Emerson (See Profile), who sits on the Commercial Division and was a member of the taskforce; Robert Giuffra Jr., a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell; and Mitchell Borger, assistant general counsel at Macy's Inc.
Kaye made clear at the outset that the panel would focus on reforms that could be accomplished by court rule and without new money, leaving aside the taskforce's recommendations for more judges and more judicial support.
She first asked the panelists to explain why reforming the Commercial Division is important. Panelists stressed that the Commercial Division has been successful, but said changes are needed to make certain it can maintain a high standard and attract major players with important cases.
"To be a great court, you gotta get great cases," Levine said. The Commercial Division, he said, has become, to some extent, a "victim of its success," as its popularity has meant a burdensome caseload.
Borger said that reforms ensuring the Commercial Division operates as efficiently as possible will keep the business community in the court.
"Litigation dollars are lost dollars to the company," he said. "It's about figuring out how to resolve the case as quickly and fairly as possible."
Turning to specifics, the panelists first raised the idea of boosting the threshold to enter the Commercial Division from its current $150,000 to $500,000 or more, which Giuffra touted as a way to lessen the "overworked" Commercial Division judges' caseload.
The Commercial and Federal Litigation Section's panel on the chief judge's taskforce report was moderated by Judith Kaye of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, at left, with panelists, from left, Howard Levine of Whiteman, Osterman & Hanna; Justice Elizabeth Emerson of the Suffolk County Commercial Division; Robert Giuffra of Sullivan & Cromwell; and Mitchell Borger, vice president/assistant general counsel of Macy's. NYLJ/Rick Kopstein