Lincoln & ADR: Pepperdine’s Stipanowich Discusses Evolution in Arbitration

By Alice Albl

The second series of New York Law School’s Conversations in Conflict drew to a close Sept. 23 with an interview featuring Pepperdine University Caruso School of Law Prof. Thomas J. Stipanowich.

The discussion centered around the progress of arbitration since the release of Stipanowich’s five-volume treatise on federal arbitration law in the 1990s; his expansive view included advancing the practice with lessons taken from the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Stipanowich’s theories focused on a tension between familiarity and efficiency. In drawing from what they know as lawyers, neutrals in arbitration may bind the process too closely to the establishment of litigation, he explained.

While neutrals may believe that apparently tried-and-true procedures inspired by litigation form the best avenues to successful dispute resolution, this mindset hinders the use of more creative, and potentially more effective, methods.

Instead, Stipanowich invited neutrals to follow in the footsteps of President Lincoln, whom he considered to be a “super functional” arbitrator. Like Lincoln, modern ADR community members should seek to work for the parties’ interests and not a nominal win.

But when Stipanowich began studying arbitration in the 1980s, neutrals weren’t the focus. Back then, arbitration suffered from a lack of procedural structure, most notably missing protocols for discovery and case management, he said.

In the ensuing years arbitrators filled these gaps. Stipanowich described this as the “legalization” of ADR, a process by which neutrals appropriated features from the practice of law into their work.

While legal processes may be effective in arbitration, their familiarity causes them to monopolize the roles they serve. Stipanowich cited examples in both the United States and abroad to demonstrate that the dominant legal processes are not necessarily the best.

Domestically, Stipanowich discussed the double-blind arbitration process used in contracts by the Writers’ Guild of America. Under this process, the disputants’ and arbitrators’ identities are not known to each other. This has the practical purpose of preventing conflict in the industry beyond the dispute, but it may also prove for a more equitable resolution beyond the reach of “legalized” ADR.

Abroad, Stipanowich, who is former president and chief executive officer of the CPR Institute, which publishes this blog, looked to the “multi-lane” duties neutrals performed in other cultures, such as the way German arbitrators help craft settlements or Chinese arbitrators often double as mediators.

U.S. arbitrators seem to be gradually warming to the idea of building multi-lane brands, something that Stipanowich encourages. He praised those who use a variety of roles and techniques to find the true conflict in disputes.

Stipanowich emphasized that finding the true conflict as early as possible will allow a neutral to spend more time balancing resolution with the interests and relationships among parties. After 40 years of study, he has found that this balance is key to success in ADR.

For Stipanowich, few could exemplify care for interests and relationships more than Abraham Lincoln. He closed the session by emphasizing the icon’s willingness to look beyond wins and vengeance during the Civil War, instead focusing on a goal of rights and equity. To see beyond the fray toward a fair resolution, Stipanowich says, is what ADR is about.

* * *

Recordings of NYLS’s Conversations in Conflict Resolution series are being posted at the school’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Skills Program at https://bit.ly/32A3aAP.  

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

[END]

Supreme Court Rejects Decade-Old Class Arbitration Employment Discrimination Case

By Cristina Carvajal

A contentious employment discrimination case now focusing on whether an arbitrator is within her authority to bind a class of employees who did not affirmatively opt-in or consent to class arbitration will not resurface now at the Supreme Court.

This morning, in its first 2020-2021 term order list (available at https://bit.ly/3la3Y72), declined to hear Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ).

The Second Circuit decision in the case last year will return the case to federal district court in New York for more proceedings ahead of arbitration in the 12-year-old-case.

The nation’s top Court today denied cert in Sterling Jewelers Inc. v. Jock, No. 1382 (Supreme Court case page available at https://bit.ly/3lgflL2). While the opt-in is the issue most recently litigated, the Court considered and rejected today a petition by the national jewelry chain on an event broader question presented,

Whether an arbitrator may compel class arbitration—binding the parties and absent class members—without finding actual consent, and instead based only on a finding that the agreement does not unambiguously prohibit class arbitration and should be construed against the drafter.

The employment case’s gender-based discrimination claim was first filed in 2008 by then-present and former women Sterling Jewelers employees. All workers were required to sign its Resolve agreement subject to American Arbitration Association rules, which included a mandatory arbitration clause, as well as a litigation waiver. For more, see Anne Muenchinger, “Still No Arbitration: In Its latest Jock decision, Second Circuit Reverses for More Contract Interpretation,” 38 Alternatives 77 (2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2GuxplA).

Not only has this case been moved from New York’s Southern U.S. District Court to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals four times, but today’s rejection was its second at the Supreme Court. Today’s decision puts the case back on a road to the case’s arbitrator, former New York Southern District magistrate Kathleen A. Roberts, now a JAMS Inc. neutral in the firm’s New York office.

David Bouffard, vice president of corporate affairs at Signet Jewelers Ltd.in Akron, Ohio, notes in a statement,

While we respect the Court’s decision, we believe the claims in this matter are without merit and are not substantiated the relevant facts and statistics. We will continue to vigorously defend against these claims, which do not accurately reflect our company or our culture. Indeed, we have long been committed to fostering a culture of respect, integrity, diversity, and inclusion where all employees feel safe, supported, and empowered—this is a tenet of who we are. In particular, Signet is a recognized leader among companies for gender diversity, with women filling 74% of store management positions and gender parity in both the C-Suite and Board of Directors. Under the leadership of our CEO, Gina Drosos, we continue to champion diversity and inclusion as a strategic priority, as we have been honored to be included on the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for two consecutive years.

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Joseph M. Sellers, a Washington, D.C., partner in Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, declined to comment on the cert denial.

In its latest decision last year, the Second Circuit reversed the lower court’s judgment and held “that the arbitrator was within her authority in purporting to bind the absent class members to class proceedings because, by signing the operative arbitration agreement, the absent class members no less than the parties, bargained for the arbitrator’s construction of their agreement with respect to class arbitrability.” Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc., 942 F.3d 617 (2d Cir. 2019) (available at https://bit.ly/30yP3eZ).

The Second Circuit referred to its previous decisions as Jock I, Jock II and Jock III. (For more on the case’s knotty procedural history, see the Alternatives’ link above). Noting that a court’s standard of review of arbitrator decisions is highly deferential, the unanimous panel in the opinion written by Circuit Judge Peter W. Hall reasoned that the arbitration agreement’s incorporation of the AAA Rules, in particular the Supplementary Rules which give an arbitrator authority to decide if an arbitration clause permits class arbitration, makes it clear that the arbitrator can decide on the question of class arbitrability.

The panel further noted the arbitration agreement itself provides that “’[q]uestions of arbitrability’ and ‘procedural questions’ shall be decided by the arbitrator.” Id.at 624.

The decision underscored that while in Jock II the panel pointed out that Jock I did not address “whether the arbitrator had the power to bind absent class members to class arbitration given that they . . . never consented to the arbitrator determining whether class arbitration was permissible under the agreement in the first place.” (Quoting an earlier decision in the case.)

That fact, however, was not a basis to alter the Second Circuit’s analysis given that class actions in arbitration and courts may bind absent class members as part of mandatory or opt-out classes.

 The Second Circuit noted that its “use of ‘consent’ as shorthand” left unclear “the possibility that the absent class members consented in a different way to the arbitrator’s authority to decide class arbitrability.” Id.at 626.

In remanding the case, the Second Circuit left open for the District Court to decide “whether the arbitrator exceeded her authority in certifying an opt-out, as opposed to a mandatory, class for injunctive and declaratory relief.” The Second Circuit already reversed an affirmative determination on that issue, but in the 2019 decision, the panel states that the lower court may revisit the issue “after allowing the parties an opportunity to present renewed argument in light of any subsequent developments in the law.”

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The author, a third-year student at the City University of New York School of Law, is a Fall 2020 CPR Institute student intern.  Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation editor Russ Bleemer assisted with reporting for this post.

[END]

A Boxer’s Day: First Circuit Refuses to Compel the WBO’s In-House Arbitration Scheme

By Alice Albl

The First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has vacated a judgement to enforce an arbitration agreement, ruling that the contract between a professional boxer and sanctioning organization was unconscionable because it allowed the organization to select arbitrators from its own staff. 

In Trout v. Organización Mundial de Boxeo Inc., 965 F.3d 71 (1st Cir. 2020) (available at https://bit.ly/2FNdUEF), the First Circuit Court remanded a case against the World Boxing Organization to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico. The court called the arbitrator-selection provision in the WBO’s Appeal Regulations “unconscionable.”

After declaring this selection process invalid, Circuit Judge David Barron, writing for a unanimous panel, left it to the federal district court to determine whether a severability clause from the separate but applicable WBO Championship Regulations would allow arbitration under the Appeal Regulations to continue.

In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Timothy Dyk wrote that, though the panel had declared the WBO arbitration setup unconscionable, it had omitted saying whether that determination would have to fall under state or federal law. Dyk noted that the court had avoided contribution to the thorny debate over how the Federal Arbitration Act may preempt state arbitration laws.

For now, according to the WBO’s attorney, Edward Ricco, a director at the Rodey Law firm in Albuquerque, N.M., the case can either proceed in the district court or transition into litigation. Ricco did not mention any plans to seek certiorari or a rehearing.

Professional boxer and World Boxing Organization member Austin Trout filed suit in a New Mexico state court in November 2015 alleging that “the WBO’s decision to remove him from its rankings for a certain weight class cost him a chance to pursue the world championship in that class,” as described in the opinion. Trout called the act a violation of the Muhammed Ali Boxing Reform Act (“MABRA”), and added claims under Puerto Rico law for breach of contract, fraud and negligence.

The WBO claimed that Trout had caused his own removal by committing to another fight while scheduled for a ranking match. The WBO invoked its Championship Regulations, which bound Trout as an organization member, and transferred venue to the U.S. District Court of Puerto Rico.

There, the WBO filed a motion to compel arbitration. It cited a provision of the Championship Regulations that required disputes to be arbitrated under its separate Appeal Regulations.

The motion was granted despite Trout’s insistence that a MABRA complaint was entitled to federal court adjudication. Trout included this contention along with three others in an appeal to the First Circuit.

While the First Circuit was quick to disarm Trout’s claim about MABRA requirements, along with two other claims, it focused on his assertion that a provision in the Appeal Regulations was unfair.

 This provision notes that arbitrators are gathered into a Grievance Committee of “[t]hree persons designated by the President” of the WBO. Those chosen served for “indeterminate terms” and were “subject to replacement by the nomination of the President of the WBO.”

Trout contested the WBO’s President’s power to freely choose and replace arbitrators as unconscionable.

The WBO countered by indicating additional language stating: “the Grievance Committee shall act as a fair and independent arbitrator of any grievance arising out of WBO Participation and it shall conduct all of its proceedings as Amiable Compositeur, Ex Aequo et Bono.”

It drew parallels between the regulations’ phrasing, and clauses deemed acceptable by other courts. Those clauses required the selection of arbitrators who were “qualified and independent.’”

That, held the First Circuit, was the problem. While cited precedent called for individuals who were “independent,” the WBO only required that an arbitrator’s performance be independent. Its selection provision called for “[t]hree persons designated by the President” of the WBO, none of whom may be members of the WBO Executive Committee.”

But the contract permitted the president to select biased individuals, even from within the WBO itself. “In fact,” the First Circuit opinion notes, “at oral argument the WBO conceded that the Appeal Regulations give the WBO’s president the power to nominate his or her own assistant to serve on the Grievance Committee.”

Allowing arbitrators to be biased toward one side of a dispute, even if expected to perform in an “independent” manner, was unconscionable, according to the First Circuit opinion.

With the selection provision struck as unconscionable, the First Circuit sent the case back to the district court to determine whether a severability clause that would allow the arbitration to continue applied. The severability clause was written not among the terms of the Appeal Regulations it was intended to preserve, but in the Championship Regulations which compelled WBO members to arbitrate.

In his concurring opinion, Circuit Judge Dyk, sitting by designation from the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals, commented on an issue unaddressed by the court. Although the WBO’s selection provision was soundly unconscionable, he wrote: “whether arbitration-clause-specific issues of unconscionability (and certain related defenses) are governed by individual state law or federal common was up for debate.”

Dyk’s comment referred to a fiery debate ignited by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011) (available at https://bit.ly/363u7jW) centered around whether the FAA preempts conflicting state law defense arbitration or rather acts a guideline for it. This topic, he concluded, “we appropriately leave to another day the question[…].”

While Trout awaits further action in the San Juan federal court, WBO counsel Edward Ricco says that he believes that the case’s impact on ADR practice will go back to contract construction. “I imagine the case will warn drafters away from the sort of arbitrator-selection provision at issue,” he said, “certainly in the First Circuit and presumably in other jurisdictions where the Trout decision may have persuasive value.”

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The author, a CPR Institute Fall 2020 intern, is a second-year student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

[END]

CPR Takes to the Web As ADR Continues in the Face of the Coronavirus Crisis

By Anne Muenchinger, Federica Romanelli & Michael Hotz

CPR on Monday hosted an online event, ADR in the Time of COVID-19: How Neutrals & Advocates Can Use Zoom for Mediations & Arbitrations, a 90-minute training dedicated to helping neutrals and advocates use the Zoom Professional online meeting platform, and how to integrate online tools into alternative dispute resolution practices.

Chicago-based attorney Thomas Valenti, an arbitrator and mediator who heads his own firm, and is a member of CPR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals, conducted the session.  Held via the platform he was discussing, Valenti showed more than 200 participants the ins and outs of Zoom Professional and how to adapt it for ADR-centric tools such as preliminary hearings, screening arbitration expert witnesses, and private party-mediator caucuses during interparty negotiations.

Monday’s lunchtime session was a follow-up to a March 17 online CPR Institute Mediation Committee where committee members, including Valenti, compared online platforms and electronic mediation techniques.

Details of both sessions are below, as well as information about an American Bar Association online ADR program held last week.

* * *

At the March 30 program, Valenti led a discussion centered around security issues, a key concern for neutrals in using online tools.  Valenti explained the many Zoom features that control access to information, including “end-to-end encryption” of meetings; identification processes; password protection for meetings; waiting rooms that control meeting attendance; the ability to lock meeting rooms once all parties are present, and auditory signals when someone enters or leaves the room.

Valenti discussed essential resources for guidance in the process of moving to an online forum, including  the ICCA-NYC Bar-CPR Protocol on Cybersecurity in International Arbitration, which provides a framework for information security measures for individual arbitration matters. He also noted Zoom’s own white paper and documents on the subject.

Valenti strongly advised using the Protocol’s Schedule A, which contains a “Baseline Security Measures” checklist and provides neutrals with the right questions about their online practice. The spirit of the Protocol, he said, is to offer a framework within which neutrals can make decisions and best adjust online tools to their individual practices and client needs.

Valenti noted the CPR Institute’s participation in the Protocol’s construction by its Working Group. CPR representatives included Senior Vice President Olivier P. André, along with Hagit Elul of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, and Micaela R.H. McMurrough, Covington & Burling, both New York-based partners at their respective firms.

Several Zoom features were explained and demonstrated, including breakout rooms, which can be used for private meetings and caucuses; screen sharing and white boards, which allow for information display or form filling on the spot, and document annotation by all attendees.

A recording of the session will be available soon on the CPR Institute’s new website Resources coronavirus clearinghouse page, ADR in the Time of COVID-19.

Valenti warned that users must recognize the potential shortcomings of online ADR. The assessment of body language will be limited, and there are no guarantees that there is no one sitting off camera or that the meeting is not being recorded.

Meeting participant Dean Burrell, of Morristown, N.J.’s Burrell Dispute Resolution, suggested a tactic he uses to deal with potential issues: He said he asks the parties to scan the room every so often to confirm no one else is present.

Another concern often raised is whether the session is being recorded; Valenti pointed out, however, that this concern is similar to any other mediation or arbitration with the use of smartphones. Hosts should acknowledge that the process is not perfect, but that risks can be minimized.  He said hosts should ask participants if someone else is in the room and not to record the session.

But beyond the  COVID-19 crisis, online ADR practice provides a useful tool for reducing costs and improving efficiency.

For arbitrators, online tools such as Zoom can help them stand out among tech-averse peers, and market themselves as having the ability to continue to push matters forward.

For mediators, online tools should be an addition to an experienced mediator’s set of skills, and can easily be used to set up documents, type in agendas, and set goals during a session. Hosts can also pass control to another party, and use different colors to identify each participant.

Valenti’s demonstration featured a video with Giuseppe Leone, founder of Virtual Mediation Lab, and showed that online mediation is not a new phenomenon. But the COVID-19 crisis is providing the ADR world with an opportunity to move itself forward with technology—not just as a substitute, but as a way to improve its practices.

Valenti recommended that the session host prepare all necessary documents beforehand and have them available on the host computer before beginning the online session, ready for display and sharing. Additionally, mediators should be more conscious about time when conducting an online, as the experience initially will be different from one in a physical space.

Hosts should also be conscious of the level of skill and familiarity that parties and counsel have with these online tools.

Valenti suggested using the initial pre-hearing conference, as set out under CPR Institute Administered Arbitration Rule 9.3, and in the 2019 CPR Rules for Administered Arbitration of International Disputes as an opportunity to test each participant’s level of comfort.

So an easy way to introduce online tools is to switch from a phone call to a video conference for the initial prehearing.

* * *

The genesis of Monday’s CPR members and neutrals-only Zoom training was CPR’s March 17th Mediation Committee meeting.

The Mediation Committee meeting featured two speakers–Kathleen Scanlon, Chief Circuit Mediator for the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, and James South, Managing Director, Senior Consultant and Mediator for the Center for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) in London—who presented their perspectives on a variety of mediation issues, including a comparative look at mediation practices on either side of the Atlantic, before focusing on mediating during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Committee then heard how CAMP (the Second Circuit’s mediation and settlement program), CEDR, CPR and the New York District office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are dealing with mediations through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kathleen Scanlon began by discussing the benefits of Sonexis (see sonexis.com) as a conferencing system.  She explained that it delegates pin numbers to each participant and allows the mediator to create private rooms for each party and join them as needed. Parties can then notify the mediator when they want to talk with the mediator.

She said there hasn’t been too much difference, anecdotally, between the success rates of mediating in person and with teleconference. Still, the video/audio approach leads to more accidental interruptions. It also decreases the ability to read body language, which can affect trust. The teleconference process also can be more tiring for the mediator to manage.

CEDR’s James South then stated that he uses Zoom.  Meeting participant Thomas Valenti agreed, also recommending the business version of Zoom to conduct more complicated mediations—which prompted the Monday, March 30 session he led, discussed above.

The Mediation Committee meeting participants, who like the March 30 session also participated by Zoom, agreed that it is critical that the conferencing technology used complies with privacy and confidentiality rules like Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (best known as the GDPR). It also was recommended that the parties should consult the ICCA-NYC Bar-CPR Cybersecurity protocol.

James South noted that many mediations had been going on normally during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, but that he expected that to change over time. He said he has found that parties have been flexible, and been willing to move to video conferencing. He noted that he is unsure if this will survive the crisis, or is only due to the current state of affairs.

South, however, was confident that any reduction in mediation will return to normal levels.

* * *

Committee members then had a lengthy discussion of the issues surrounding the health crisis.  CPR Institute Senior Vice President Helena Tavares Erickson commented that she had provided to members of CPR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals a list of services that they could use to mediate effectively during the crisis.

Erickson noted that CPR Dispute Resolution Services offers its neutrals the option of using a secure document exchange, which allows for online text chat in different chat rooms. (For CPR Institute Dispute Resolution filing details, see www.cpradr.org/dispute-resolution-services/file-a-case.)

Meeting participant David Reinman, who is supervisory ADR coordinator of the New York District’s U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission office, reported that his unit has a program that is currently handling all mediation by video or phone. The EEOC also is allowing parties to reschedule if they insist on in-person mediation. Parties who need translators or other special accommodations may invoke applicable proceedings, too.

Tom Valenti asked about screening procedures when conducting in-person mediations. It was noted that many law firms are forcing people to sign waivers stating that they hadn’t been in at-risk places. Given current advisories and shutdowns, however, it’s unclear that such waivers are effective. If parties want to continue doing face-to-face mediation—which has ceased entirely in many shutdown locations for the duration of the emergency–best practice would be to state that they haven’t been in contact with anyone who is infected.

Meeting participants noted, however, such mandatory declarations on disclosing other parties’ infection status could potentially violate HIPAA rules.

Various other online platforms and training options were compared among the participants near the meeting’s conclusion.

* * *

Beyond CPR’s online training event and meeting, and the resources noted, including the new CPR Institute website Resources clearinghouse page, ADR in the Time of COVID-19, others in the legal world and the dispute resolution community have tackled the move online.

For example, the American Bar Association webcasted a panel of experts on continuing with mediations, arbitrations and similar ADR commitments while coping with coronavirus.

The 90-minute March 20 web panel, “ODR in the ERA of COVID-19: Experts Answer Your Questions,” featured panelists including Hamline-Mitchell School of Law Prof. David Larson; online dispute resolution pioneer Colin Rule, who is a Stanford Law School lecturer, and University of Missouri School of Law Prof. Amy Schmitz. It also was hosted on Zoom.

The panelists shared a presentation while providing useful links on a side chat and taking Q&A from the attendees on another window—an electronic version of social distancing that has been repeated, and is rapidly become an ADR standard operating procedure.

The panel provided a list of advice for neutrals wanting to add tech tools to their toolbox.  It focused on accessibility; preparing lists; ensuring a competent approach; accessing live assistance as needed; analyzing online providers (see, e.g., http://odr.info/provider-list/); taking stock of the role for non-verbal communication; assessing whether the disputants will communicate synchronously; confidentiality; considerations for designing an ODR system; ensuring fairness; and ethical considerations.

The ABA panel concluded on ODR resources, providing the following links:

  • Cyberweek 2019; the NCTDR hosts Cyberweek annually at its website.
  • com, a collaborative resource guide.
  • Amy J. Schmitz and Colin Rule, The New Handshake: Where We Are Now (June 27, 2017). International Journal of Online Dispute Resolution 2016 (3) 2; University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2017-18. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2991821

* * *

Muenchinger is a CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern, and an LLM student at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, focused on the March 30 session discussed in this article.  The section on the CPR Mediation Committee meeting was prepared by CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern Michael Hotz. The section on the ABA seminar was prepared by CPR Institute Spring 2020 intern Federica Romanelli. Alternatives’ editor Russ Bleemer assisted with the research and writing.

 

 

CPR COVID-19 Update

The COVID-19 virus has affected all aspects of our daily lives, and we at CPR continue to monitor developments that affect our staff, members, neutrals and those to whom we provide services. We are assessing the situation daily and monitoring all recommendations from the World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local authorities. We encourage you to do the same.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

CPR has communicated with the appropriate parties about best practices and recommended safety guidelines, both with regards to our personal habits and CPR’s physical office space.

We do ask that our staff and any visitors exercise caution and good judgment and not come into our office when they are sick or experiencing symptoms such as runny or stuff nose, fever, cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, body aches, chills or fatigue. If there is any doubt, we advise erring on the side of caution and would be happy to assist via phone or other (e.g., videoconferencing) means.

CPR PROGRAMMING AND EVENTS

While some events scheduled for the near term are, out of an abundance of caution, in the process of being rescheduled, others have already been seamlessly transformed to online proceedings. For some time now, all CPR committee meetings already have offered a virtual component (i.e., with video or audio conferencing) so that programming will not change for the immediate future – and there are some great meetings scheduled, on timely topics.

For example, next week our Mediation Committee will be hosting a panel discussion on comparisons between domestic and international mediation. Our panelists have updated their presentation to include a discussion on how mediators are adapting to the coronavirus outbreak in the United States and abroad. We are also going to hold our Employment Committee’s Post-Epic Systems panel discussion at the end of March via video conference as well. Given that CPR’s membership spans the world, our members are able to participate remotely – and robustly – in committee programming. 

BUSINESS AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION SERVICES CONTINUITY

CPR has planned and prepared for situations such as these. Our New York office remains open and operational. However, should the need arise, our staff is prepared to work securely and remotely.

In the event it becomes necessary for us to temporarily close our physical office, rest assured that CPR Dispute Resolution can and will operate virtually, offering our full suite of dispute prevention and resolution services without interruption.

“ALTERNATIVE ADR” – ONLINE AND OTHER RESOURCES

As more and more companies restrict travel and communities restrict travel and large gatherings, questions have also arisen as to alternatives to face-to-face arbitration hearings or mediations. We urge parties and neutrals to discuss these issues as they arise, and CPR has taken steps to help parties and neutrals address these challenges. Specifically, we have arranged for CPR’s neutrals to have access to a secure online platform for the management of mediations and single arbitrator cases.

We also encourage anyone utilizing video or online venues or processes to review The ICCA-NYC Bar-CPR Protocol on Cybersecurity in International Arbitration (2020 Edition).

Please let us know if you have any questions or concerns, or if there is an issue here we have not addressed. We are all part of the same dispute prevention and resolution community, and look forward continuing to support one another as we navigate this situation, together.  Please stay safe and healthy.

Ecuador’s Plea for Mediation in the Assange Standoff

By Ginsey Varghese

In early January, Ecuador Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa indicated interest in mediation by a “third country or personality” to resolve the asylum case of Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Assange has been living in Ecuador’s embassy in London since June 2012, avoiding extradition to Sweden on a rape charge. Paulina Dedaj, “Assange asylum ‘not stable,’ Ecuadorian embassy says,” Fox News (Jan. 9) (available at http://fxn.ws/2DX3Vaq).

The Swedes are no longer pursuing the case, but the United States still may want Assange extradited in connection with the WikiLeaks publication of U.S. military information.

Today, a U.K. court denied Assange’s request to invalidate the arrest warrant for him, after his lawyers argued that there was no need for extradition since the original charges in Sweden had been dropped.  “Julian Assange arrest warrant still stands, court rules,” BBC News (Feb. 6)(available at http://bbc.in/2GT7obb). The request was denied.

The BBC earlier reported that Assange’s current arrangement is unsustainable. “A person cannot live in those conditions forever,” Espinosa said. “Julian Assange: Ecuador seeks mediator in ‘unsustainable standoff,’” BBC News (Jan. 9) (available at http://bbc.in/2DZYc3S).

Assange earned notoriety in 2010 when WikiLeaks released confidential materials about U.S. military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan, which included helicopter video of civilians being killed in Iraq, diplomatic correspondence of underground negotiations and classified documents about the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Liam Stack, Nick Cumming-Bruce & Madeleine Kruhly, “Julian Assange: A Legal History.”  N.Y. Times (Updated Jan. 26)(available at http://nyti.ms/2mZAywg).

There are rumors of a secret U.S. arrest and extradition warrant for his connection to exposing U.S. state secrets if he leaves the embassy. Maggy Ayala & Steven Erlanger, “Ecuador Gives Assange Citizenship Worsening Standoff with Britain.” N.Y. Times (Jan 11) (available at http://nyti.ms/2EzDfvk).

Assange fears prosecution by the United States, and British officials have not provided any assurances that he would not be extradited. Alexandra Valencia, “Ecuador says exploring mediation to solve Assange standoff,” Reuters (Jan. 9)(available at http://reut.rs/2DHNEpB).

CNN earlier reported that the British police maintain an arrest warrant for Assange because he jumped bail after the British Supreme Court denied his extradition appeal. Jason Hanna, “Swedish court refuses to revoke Julian Assange’s arrest warrant,” CNN (Nov. 20, 2014) (http://cnn.it/1r0v79Y). See also Ana Melgar, Jamie Grey, and Kara Fox, “WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange granted Ecuadorian citizenship,” CNN (Jan 11) (http://cnn.it/2D3H4wT).

Assange described the situation since his arrest as a “terrible injustice.” Robert Booth, “Julian Assange’s stay in London’s embassy untenable, says Ecuador,” Guardian (Jan. 9) (available at http://bit.ly/2CLUs4B).

When Ecuador initially granted asylum to Assange, he was viewed as a political hero by many for opposing “US imperialism”; but today, with his interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Assange’s supporter base has shifted to “hard-right nationalists,” according to the Guardian‘s James Ball, “The only barrier to Julian Assange leaving Ecuador’s embassy is pride,” Guardian (Jan. 10)(available at http://bit.ly/2DguTtu).

Reuters earlier quoted Espinosa, who stated, “No solution can be reached without international cooperation and without cooperation from the United Kingdom.”

The Guardian noted that Assange’s lawyer appeared to welcome Ecuador’s mediation proposal, and emphasized that the U.K should “respect[] its human rights obligations and commitments to the United Nations.”

But UK government countered that Assange should leave the embassy and face justice.

The diplomatic standstill has only worsened with Ecuador’s grant of citizenship to Assange last month, a decision that Ecuador Foreign Minister Espinosa explained was made after careful review of Ecuador’s obligations under Ecuadorean law and international law, according to the New York Times.

Ecuador’s “mediation” pitch may be a route to resolution, but so far, the stalemate continues.

The author is a CPR Institute 2018 intern. She is a law student at Pepperdine University’s School of Law in Malibu, Calif.