South Carolina’s “Business Court Pilot Program” becomes the “Business Court Program”

South Carolina’s Business Court Pilot Program was created in September 2007 by Administrative Order of then Chief Justice Jean Hoefer Toal. The pilot program began with three judges in three counties. In January 2014, the Business Court Pilot Program expanded into a statewide court, divided into three regions, but still with three judges.

In her January 2014 Order extending jurisdiction, Chief Justice Toal explained that the Business Court Pilot Program “has successfully created an option to litigate complex business, corporate, and commercial matters in the circuit courts of this State and should be expanded statewide.”

In August 2014, five judges were added to serve in the Business Court Pilot Program, along with the existing three Business Court Pilot Program Judges. In February 2017, a ninth judge was added, and in December of that year, a tenth. After over ten years, however, it was still the “Business Court Pilot Program”, and was so designated as late as a December 20, 2017 Administrative Order extending the program to December 31, 2018.

On January 30, 2019, Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty issued a superseding Administrative Order entitled “In re: Amended Business Court Program”. Thus, for the first time since the program’s inception in September 2007, it was designated the “Business Court Program” rather than the “Business Court Pilot Program”. It is referred to as the Business Court Program in the 2019 Order’s text, with no use of the word “pilot”. This 2019 Administrative Order also adds an 11th judge. Thus, this successful program has achieved a higher degree of permanency, as it continues to expand.

This program has had some national impact as well, through current South Carolina Business Court Judge Clifton Newman.

Judge Clifton Newman, far left, with Business Court Representative Judges Jerome Abrams (Minnesota), Mary Miller Johnston (Delaware), Timothy Driscoll (New York), Christopher Yates (Michigan) and Denise Owens (Mississippi)

Judge Newman was originally appointed to the Business Court in 2010.   In 2016-2017, he served as President of the American College of Business Courts Judges. He was a Business Court Representative to the American Bar Association’s Section of Business Law, and served as Co-Chair of its Judges Initiative Committee. He has participated in innumerable programs and panels presenting the judge’s perspective on a wide range of issues to lawyers and other judges from across the United States, and he is held in the highest esteem by those of us who have worked with him and learned from him.

We also note that South Carolina attorneys Cory E. Manning and Carmen Harper Thomas have played a national role in business courts, after working with South Carolina’s Task Force on Courts in studying the creation of a business court for South Carolina. Manning was chair of the ABA’s Business Courts Subcommittee from 2010-2013, and participated as author and editor of the “Business Courts” chapter in the Section of Business Law Business and Corporate Litigation Committee’s Recent Developments in Business and Corporate Litigation. Thomas has served the same role with the Recent Developments book, and has been a longstanding Vice-Chair of the Business Courts Subcommittee.