ATLANTA - Leah Ward Sears, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, said Wednesday that her court's reputation has helped the state's economy and suggested that it take another step.

"Georgia has a long tradition of being a business-friendly state. That has served our state's economy well," Sears said during her State of the Judiciary speech.

"Business-friendly states are better able to attract new businesses and retain existing ones."

Sears also said that the state's trial courts have been stretched thin and that the state needs to develop a system of business courts.

At least 10 states already have business courts, designed to streamline the process that can sometimes be drawn out by complex business issues.

"We hope that through our Business Court Pilot Program, presently being developed in Fulton County, one day soon Georgia companies, as well as other companies that may decide to locate in here, will benefit because our state's business-friendly policies will be more widely reflected in our court system," Sears said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue said last year that in 2003 he inherited an economy with a revenue shortfall of $640 million and the state has since turned it into a $580 million surplus.

Also in the last four years, 230,000 jobs have been created for Georgians.

"Legal disputes are a fact of life in the business community," Sears said. "And when disputes arise, companies need assurance that they will be handled efficiently, expeditiously and competently."

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