CHEYENNE — In case you missed it, Wyoming is getting a new court system.
Senate File 104, whose prime sponsor was Senate President Drew Perkins of Casper, received little attention when it flew through the Legislature last March, probably because it is not a well-known system among lay people, and moreover, is difficult to define.
I can attest to the difficulty defining this court system, having needed the assistance of multiple web sites and the bill’s sponsors to get a rough idea of what it is.
The new law creates a chancery court which will be in addition to the state’s circuit and district courts.
Chancery courts are specialty courts that currently are designed to expedite primarily business-type conflicts, like breach of contract, that usually are handled in the circuit or district courts.
“If fills a niche of business type claims that are more specialized and don’t need a jury,” House Speaker Steve Harshman, of Casper, a bill sponsor, said in an email.
“It is designed to be business friendly and take some of the burden off of circuit and district courts.”
Rep. Mike Greear of Worland, another sponsor, agreed with Harshman’s comments in an email.
The legislative summary of the law says the new court is a court of limited jurisdiction “established for the expeditious resolution of disputes involving commercial, business, trust and similar issues.’’
“The chancery court shall employ nonjury trials, alternative dispute resolution methods and limited motions practice and shall have broad authority to shape and expedite discovery as provided in the rules adopted by the Supreme Court to govern chancery courts.”
The Legislature allocated $1.5 million for the new court with three judges and a court clerk.
Although the chancery court isn’t fully official until Jan. 1, 2022, the Supreme Court will appoint judges to serve until then, likely to be retired justices or judges.
At that time, the state’s normal constitutional system of selecting judges will take over with the Judicial Nominating Commission recommending three candidates for each judgeship to the governor, who will make the final appointment.
Meanwhile, a commission, headed by Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Kate Fox, will be working to set up the new court system and develop rules.
The judges who will serve on the court will have jurisdiction statewide.
Harshman said one possibility is to locate one judge in Casper.
“We built shelled space into the Casper office building,” he said.
Chancery courts came here from England where they were courts with the jurisdiction of a chancellor acting as the “King’s conscience.” Hence they became courts of chancery in the U.S. which essentially became a court of general equity powers, according to internet sources.
Equity is a system by which judges make decisions based on more flexible fairness and common-sense principles, rather than the strict application of common laws, especially in cases where common law may result in injustice.
These “equity” courts have jurisdiction in cases where an adequate remedy cannot be found in circuit courts which deal in common law.
The judge in a chancery court is expected to not only use the law but also the concept of what is right and wrong and what is fair and just in all court rulings, according to study.com, an online course in criminal justice law.
Among the relative few states that still have chancery courts, the state of Delaware may be be the oldest.
The Delaware Court of Chancery was established in 1792 and is one reason the tiny state is recognized as the best state in the U.S. and the world in which to form a company.
More than half of the companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ call Delaware home, as do 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies
The Delaware Court of Chancery is widely recognized as the preeminent forum in which to settle disputes that involve fairness decisions involving Delaware corporations, limited liability companies and other business entities.
The Delaware chancery court is a non-jury trial court that serves as Delaware’s court of origin and exclusive equity jurisdiction, and adjudicates a wide variety of cases involving trusts, real property, guardianships, civil rights and commercial litigation.
The non-jury aspect is significant because the Delaware chancellors are skilled and experienced in corporate law.
Litigants can therefore rely on fair and unbiased decisions based on the law rather than public opinion that can influence a jury.
Unlike Wyoming, the Delaware chancellors also rely on more than 200 years of case law (history) in making their rulings.