Commercial Division Advisory Council Makes Headway

, New York Law Journal

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Once just proposals on paper, the recommendations set forth by a task force on commercial litigation convened by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) a year and a half ago are gradually nearing actualization.

In the last few weeks, based on the reports of an advisory council created to advocate on behalf of these changes, Office of Court Administration has released a series of proposals which, if adopted, would affect the general operation and processes of New York's Commercial Division to help retain its competitive edge both in the United States and abroad.

These measures include an 18-month pilot mandatory mediation program in New York County; a rule intended to streamline litigation and accelerate adjudication by providing for waiver of such things as interlocutory appeals and objections over jurisdiction; a limit to the scope and number of interrogatories allowed; and an enhanced preliminary conference form to streamline discovery.

As swiftly as these proposals have been released in the last month, they represent a fraction of the changes outlined in the June 2012 task force report which devised ways to keep business flowing into the Commercial Division while keeping costs down for litigants and easing the burden of rising caseloads on judges.

In fact, plenty more substantive recommendations remain, such as the creation of a new class of Court of Claims judges drawn from a body of experienced commercial practitioners; increasing the monetary threshold in Manhattan from $150,000 to $500,000; giving judges additional law clerks; and setting new limits on expert disclosure, to name a few.

There is no time frame for when such additional proposals might see the light of day. They are among the recommendations that the advisory council, a 43-member group comprised of practitioners, in-house counsel and judges on both the trial and appellate levels chaired by Kelley Drye & Warren partner Robert Haig, will tackle in the coming months.

By any measure, the council has made much headway since forming in March 2013 but it has plenty left to do. "The committee is making great progress resulting in many of the proposals," OCA spokesman David Bookstaver said.

Haig said he is "grateful" to members of the council for the "extraordinary amounts of time and thought they have devoted" to this effort these last nine months, noting that their recommendations "on a number of significant matters" already have been released while others remain under consideration by OCA's advisory board, which consists of Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti and the presiding justices on the four appellate division departments.

"I anticipate that the Advisory Council will continue to address during 2014 the numerous thoughtful recommendations set forth in the task force report," Haig said.

Earlier in the year, OCA implemented other smaller scale changes without seeking public comment. These include a new searchable electronic database of Commercial Division decisions maintained by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau and the designation of Supreme Court Judge Charles Ramos to handle all international arbitration-related proceedings in the Commercial Division.

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