Changes to Mediation Confidentiality to Be Considered by California Legislature

By Lyn Lawrence

The California Law Revision Commission, acting under the order of a resolution by the California Legislature, last month finalized a tentative recommendation that creates an exception in the state’s Evidence Code to mediation confidentiality.

If it is passed into law it will allow disgruntled clients to use information that is currently considered confidential as evidence in attorney malpractice suits.

The final version of the CLRC proposal is available at http://bit.ly/2rIuTvF.

This week, CPR and its monthly newsletter, Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, continue their coverage with two extensive examinations of the moves to change mediation confidentiality—a commentary by Los Angeles neutral Jeff Kichaven (see http://bit.ly/2snQUjF), and a compilation of key debate points submitted to the CLRC during its three years examining the issue, by CPR Summer 2017 intern Lyn Lawrence.

The new July/August issue of Alternatives can be found at http://bit.ly/1BUALop. CPR Institute members can access the issue when signed into CPR’s website at http://bit.ly/2kAakxH. Kichaven’s cover story will be available at altnewsletter.com later in July.

You can read last month’s “How California Intends to Recalibrate the Concept of Mediation Confidentiality,” 35 Alternatives 93 (June 2017) at http://bit.ly/2sWyqr1.

The CLRC’s recommendation for a mediation confidentiality exception for legal malpractice was sparked by California Supreme Court Justice Ming W. Chin’s concurring opinion in Cassel v. Superior Court (2011) 51 Cal. 4th 113, 117 (available at http://bit.ly/2tOHBgV). In the case, the client accused his attorneys of coercing him into accepting a mediation settlement that was not in his best interest.

The client was unsuccessful in his claim, but Chin wrote that the court had “to give effect to the literal statutory language” prohibiting disclosure of the mediation communications. “But,” he added, “I am not completely satisfied that the Legislature has fully considered whether attorneys should be shielded from accountability in this way. There may be better ways to balance the competing interests than simply providing that an attorney’s statements during mediation may never be disclosed.”

The exception contained in the CLRC’s tentative recommendation has received mixed reviews from ADR professionals, organizations and even California state departments operating in the mediation field.

Opponents of the CLRC efforts were dealt a blow when the tentative recommendation was approved by the commission on June 8. The approved tentative recommendation is available for public comment until Sept. 1, 2017.  A press release and instructions for commenting are available at http://bit.ly/2t0UyE8.

The creation and acceptance of the tentative recommendation come as a surprise to at least some practitioners, mainly due to California’s longstanding advocacy for the protection, support and growth of mediation. At the same time, some longtime practitioners viewed the preservation of a path to attorney malpractice cases as an enhancement to the integrity of mediation practice.

Confidentiality is a cornerstone of the mediation process, and it is unclear what the effect the exception would have if it is adopted into California law.  A legislative fight looms.

But exceptions to mediation confidentiality aren’t particularly new. For example, the Uniform Mediation Act (available at http://bit.ly/2tGNrRj) has been adopted by numerous states and contains exceptions to mediation confidentiality. Jeff Kichaven expands on these exceptions in his Alternatives commentary, which strongly backs the CLRC tentative proposal.

The CPR Institute will continue to follow the CLRC’s activity, including when the commission publishes the public comments, which it stated in an email would be after the Sept. 1 comment deadline.

The author is a CPR Institute Summer 2017 Intern.

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