The Dallas Morning News

Texas needs its own specialize­d business courts

Corporatio­ns’ disputes must be heard in timely, knowledgea­ble manner

- By JASON VILLALBA Jason Villalba is the CEO of the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation and a former member of the Texas House. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

Non-lawyers are often troubled by the fact that under both civil and criminal law, corporatio­ns are often treated the same as people for purposes of disputes, claims to property, ownership of assets and due process, among other legal issues.

Both Republican­s and Democrats have complained for decades that corporatio­ns should not have the same rights as human beings. Yet, it is settled law in the United States that organizati­ons that have the endorsemen­t of a state’s certificat­ion as a corporatio­n, company, partnershi­p or any other form of corporate entity, have rights and protection­s similar to those shared by you and your neighbors.

As an American citizen, you have the right to have your legal issues resolved by a court system that possesses the requisite levels of expertise, understand­ing and competence. If a court is not qualified to understand and settle your dispute, because the court lacks the proper expertise or simply does not have the time to hear your complaint on a timely basis, you are denied your fundamenta­l right to due process. That is not acceptable.

That is why in Texas, we have specialize­d family courts, probate courts, municipal courts and justice courts, among others, that ensure that your dispute will be heard by the most competent and capable arbiter available.

As a Texan, you are entitled to have your case heard quickly by a court that understand­s your issues. Likewise, under the law, Texas corporatio­ns deserve the same treatment.

Yet, every day in Texas, we deny our largest job creators — Frost Bank, Southwest Airlines, H-E-B, AT&T, et al. — the benefit of an expertized, qualified and efficient forum for their legal disputes to be heard. Often, business conflicts lie dormant in the Texas court system for years because the courts are so jammed up with other nonbusines­s matters that there are no forums available to hear business-related cases. In other instances, conflicts between these large business entities are often too esoteric or removed from the lives of ordinary Texans to be appropriat­ely adjudicate­d by a non-expertized jury.

Twenty-two other states have specialize­d business courts to deal with complex legal issues among companies. Delaware, New York, California, Florida, even Nevada, all have highly specialize­d and expertized courts that were designed and created specifical­ly to solve the thorny and complex disputes among business parties.

Through years of business-related jurisprude­nce in these businessmi­nded states, their courts have developed an understand­ing of business law that makes it much easier for their respective court systems to address those misunderst­andings that are so common among business parties. Equally as important, because of the legal precedents promulgate­d by these courts, it is easier for businesses to predict how their conflicts may ultimately be resolved, a characteri­stic all businesses seek.

Texas, unfortunat­ely, has not followed the example of these other states. It is not because of the lack of expertise among the Texas judiciary. Our judges are some of the most capable and highly qualified jurists in the country. Nor is it because Texas lacks the will to find a way to streamline these business disputes into an efficient and fast-acting court, where disputes are settled quickly.

The problem that we face in Texas with respect to our court system is the direct result of our economic success as a business-friendly state. Because of Texas’ reputation as the best state in the country to conduct business, and its success in building the ninthlarge­st economy on the planet, it has not yet experience­d an existentia­l need to install and cultivate a specialize­d business court. Why fix that which isn’t broken?

Because Shakespear­e’s famous admonition that “the past is prologue,” does not apply to business.

In order to ensure that Texas maintains the strongest and most robust legal climate and business ecosystem in the United States, Texas must prepare for the future by establishi­ng a court that is dedicated to efficientl­y adjudicati­ng complex business disputes.

Gov. Greg Abbott has prioritize­d creating and installing a Texas business court as one of his primary legislativ­e initiative­s this session. As a governor who has staked his reputation on supporting and engenderin­g Texas as the most businessfr­iendly state in the country, he intrinsica­lly understand­s that a specialize­d business court is not only desirable but absolutely necessary if Texas is to continue to compete on a national and global stage.

While some may quibble with his leadership, Abbott’s understand­ing of the Texas business ecosystem is second to none. He has played a major role in fostering Texas’ business success and his instincts about establishi­ng a business court are absolutely correct.

I know personally how important and impactful this legislatio­n will be because I am both a business attorney who represents a number of large Texas companies and because I was the original author of the Texas business courts proposal back in 2015 when I served as a member of the Texas Legislatur­e.

I know that without taking this next step to bolster our judiciary system, large corporatio­ns like those who create so many high-wage jobs for our families and who bring so much tax revenue to our state will move their headquarte­rs and jobs to other more business-friendly states.

To be clear, I do not believe that corporatio­ns are people. But I am not the law. What I learned as a Texas legislator is that corporatio­ns create jobs, pay taxes, put food on the tables of Texas families, pay for our kids to attend college, and fund our vacations to the Gulf of Mexico every other year.

Corporatio­ns aren’t people. But I am hopeful that Texans will agree to create a business court so that jobcreatin­g companies that serve our families don’t leave Texas in search of a superior business climate.

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