The pilot program for commercial docket courts in Ohio began in 2009, and was met with strongly positive reviews by both business lawyers and their clients, who generally experienced prompter resolution of and greater expertise in commercial cases. It now appears that what began as a pilot program will become permanent.
In late 2012, the Supreme Court Task Force on Commercial Dockets issued a final report in which it recommended the Supreme Court adopt Rules 49 through 49.12 of the Rules of Superintendence for the Courts of Ohio allowing for the permanent establishment of commercial dockets. The report found that the benefits of the program included accelerating decisions, creating expertise among judges, and achieving consistency in court decisions around the state, and it expected that these rules will be made permanent. These rules provide in part for the following:
Expansion of the Commercial Docket Program– the Rules expand the commercial docket to counties with either 6 or more general division judges or populations exceeding 300,000, although implementation of the commercial docket program remains voluntary.
More Formalized Training– while the Temporary Rules require unspecified training of commercial docket judges through the Supreme Court of Ohio Judicial College, permanent Rule 49.04(B) requires at least 12 hours of training every two years.
Balancing of Workloads– New Rule 49.09(A) represents an attempt to balance the workload of commercial docket judges and non-commercial docket judges by assigning a non-commercial docket case to a non-commercial docket judge for every commercial docket case assigned. Rule 49.09(B) also attempts to achieve balance by requiring courts of common pleas with commercial docket programs to establish local rules by either reducing the number of cases assigned to commercial docket judges by either not assigning them any fourth or fifth degree felony cases; reducing their criminal docket by 50% or by meaningfully reducing the non-commercial docket civil cases assigned to each commercial docket judge.
Deadlines for Rulings– Rule 49.11 provides that commercial docket judges are to rule on dispositive motions within 90 days from the later of the completion of oral argument or briefing, and are to rule on all other motions within 60 days of the later of the completion of oral argument or briefing. Decisions are to be made within 90 days of the submission of the case after trial.
The types of cases eligible and ineligible for the commercial docket is unchanged. Cases involving labor organizations and government entities remain ineligible for the commercial docket.
Participation in the commercial docket program is still voluntary, however, so it is unclear at this time whether the Franklin County Common Pleas Court will re-establish its commercial docket program. Perhaps the provisions of new rule 49.09(A) will address the concerns of certain judges regarding the balancing of workloads between commercial docket and non-commercial docket judges.