Committee Q&A: A Conversation with Mediation Committee Co-Chair, Marjorie Berman 

marjorieberman

As part of our continuing “Committee Q&A” series, we sat down recently with Mediation Committee Co-Chair, Marjorie Berman of Krantz & Berman (pictured), to learn more about what this committee has been up to and has planned for the future.

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The Mediation Committee consists of CPR members throughout the world and aims to enhance the quality and effectiveness of corporate mediation practice, both domestically and internationally.  The Mediation Committee recently released Mediation Best Practices Guide for In-House Counsel: Make Mediation Work for You, a CPR members-only guide with insider tips from in-house counsel on how to navigate every step of the mediation process (digital copies available to CPR members at no cost).  The Mediation Committee meets quarterly to collaborate and share best practices and put on programs of interest.   In addition, the Committee works to identify qualified neutrals to serve on CPR’s Panels of Distinguished Neutrals. You may find online, CPR’s Mediation ProcedureFast Track Rules for Mediation, and International Mediation Procedure (2017), as well as other industry-specific protocols.

Q. What are some of the specific issues that the Mediation Committee has focused on recently, and how?

A. I am a relatively new add to the committee but, looking back at just the past two meetings we’ve held, the first was on the Singapore Convention. We worked to fashion a program that would be meaningful – and useful – to people at all levels, including some who may not be as familiar with international law.  And at our most recent meeting, we focused on the very timely topic of confidentiality in mediation.

There has been a recent vintage of challenges to the confidentiality of mediation in the courts. Eugene Farber and Professor Nancy Rogers of the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law spoke, and the meeting was super lively and chock full of information. The event also inspired a very strong dialogue among the participants with respect to both knowledge and practice tips on anticipating that such issues could arise.

Q. Can you give us a preview of some of the important issues the Mediation Committee will be focusing on in the coming year?  

A. One long-term focus of the committee is an even closer look at this issue of confidentiality in mediation. Because candor between a mediator and parties is essential, mediation depends upon the privileges and confidentiality that protect those communications. The law protecting mediation communications is a patchwork of federal and individual case statutes, case law and rules of conduct that vary across jurisdictions.

This project will inform practitioners of the law and rules governing mediation confidentiality by jurisdiction so they can prepare themselves in the event they need to mediate in an unfamiliar locale. In fact, as people are reading this, and they have personal experiences with challenges to confidentiality and being put in the spotlight in a litigation – not where mediators wish to be! – I encourage them to share those stories with the committee.  

Q. What have you personally gotten out of participating in CPR’s committee structure, and what would you say to busy CPR members about why they should become more involved?

A. Even in the short term in which I’ve been intensely involved, participation in the committee has given me exposure to a wide variety of mediators working in many different contexts, and to a breadth of mediation practices. We can all so easily develop a narrow focus in our work, so it is especially valuable to get perspective from all angles – including from inside and outside litigators using mediation, mediators doing mediation, mediators working both in the US and around the world and academics studying mediation.

Q. Why would you encourage people to join CPR’s Mediation Committee in particular?

A. To some degree mediators tend to be in a bit of a closed world. They mediate cases and its often just them, in a room as a mediator. Being a part of such a dynamic and interactive group expands your view and allows you to process and grow both your perspective and your practice. This is valuable whether you’re a mediator trying to develop your own practice, or a litigator from a corporation or a law firm who is involved as a participant, trying to get a perspective of where mediators are coming from – because you can’t have that kind of conversation with your own mediator.

Committee participation also provides the broader opportunity to act as a thought leader, helping to improve the effectiveness of mediation and to shape best practices. Mediation is a very dynamic area where small changes can produce big results in terms of outcomes, and this committee offers an opportunity to become a meaningful part of that.

Marjorie Berman of Krantz & Berman LLP represents civil litigants in business disputes, employers and employees in employment conflicts, and individuals in white-collar criminal matters.

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CPR committees are always looking to increase membership and participation, and there are no extra fees or costs associated with joining. Learn more about CPR’s other industry and subject matter committees here. To become a committee member, log in and join the committee(s) of your choice or email a note of interest to Richard Murphy at rmurphy@cpradr.org.

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other thought leaders in your industry.

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Uber Eliminates Mandatory Arbitration of, and NDAs for, Sexual Assault and Harassment Claims

AnnaBy Anna M. Hershenberg, Esq.

Uber Technologies Inc. announced that it will no longer require its customers, drivers or employees to arbitrate sexual assault or harassment claims, and that it would allow victims to decide whether to enter into non-disclosure agreements or confidentiality provisions as a part of any settlement with the company.

Uber is the second tech company to announce it has changed its dispute resolution policies in response to the #MeToo movement, following Microsoft’s December move.  Brad Smith, “Microsoft endorses Senate bill to address sexual harassment,” Microsoft blog (Dec. 19, 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2mR65jR).

In a blog post yesterday, “Turning the lights on,” Uber’s Chief Legal Officer Tony West announced the details of three major changes to Uber’s policies. Tony West, “Turning the lights on,” Uber blog (May 15, 2018) (available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1).

First, Uber states it “will no longer require mandatory arbitration for individual claims of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims by Uber riders, drivers or employees.” The company instead will allow victims to choose whether to mediate, arbitrate or litigate their individual claims.

In an interview with the New York Times, West confirmed that the “waiving of arbitration only applied to those claims and not for other legal claims, like discrimination.” Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Uber Eliminates Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims,” New York Times (May 15, 2018)(available at https://nyti.ms/2GjbBTW).

West also noted that the new policy applies “to people currently in arbitration with Uber over sexual assault or harassment claims.” Id. 

The Uber blog post specifically states that the company waives application of mandatory arbitration to “individual” claims, still barring class actions. Notably, as of the writing of this blog post, Uber’s driver agreement still contains a mandatory arbitration clause.  Uber US Terms of Use (Dec. 13, 2017)(available at https://ubr.to/2jrKPBW).

Second, Uber will no longer require people who settle sexual harassment or abuse claims with the company to sign confidentiality provisions or NDAs that forbid them from speaking about their experience in order to “help end the culture of silence that surrounds sexual violence.” Tony West, “Turning the lights on,” Uber blog (May 15, 2018)(available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1).

This does not appear to prohibit victims from agreeing to keep the terms of the settlement confidential. “Whether to find closure, seek treatment, or become advocates for change themselves, survivors will be in control of whether to share their stories,” the blog post states.

Third, Uber has committed to publishing “a safety transparency report that will include data on sexual assaults and other incidents that occur on the Uber platform.” Id.

Soon after Uber announced these changes, competitor Lyft announced the same changes, and said on Twitter it would join Uber in producing a safety report.  Johana Bhuiyan, “Following Uber’s lead, Lyft is also allowing alleged victims of sexual assault to pursue cases in open court.” Recode (May 15, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ILLXfO).

Some news sources have linked Uber’s policy change to its hopes for an initial public offering in 2019, and mounting public pressure following a CNN investigation, which found that 103 U.S. Uber drivers had been accused of sexual assault or abuse in the past four years.  Daisuke Wakabayashi, “Uber Eliminates Forced Arbitration for Sexual Misconduct Claims,” New York Times (May 15, 2018)(available at https://nyti.ms/2GjbBTW); Stephanie Forshee, “Uber CLO Explains Decision to Scrap Mandatory Arbitration Clauses and NDAs Around Sexual Harassment, Assault,” Corporate Counsel (May 15, 2018)(available at https://cnnmon.ie/2I35QyI); see also Sara Ashley O’Brien, Nelli Black, Curt Devine and Drew Griffin, “CNN investigation: 103 Uber drivers accused of sexual assault or abuse,” CNN Money (April 30, 2018) (available at https://cnnmon.ie/2I35QyI).

Uber’s Tony West, however, insists that the new policies are aimed at winning back the “public’s trust,” “respect of customers [Uber] lost through [its] past actions and behavior,” and, in the words of the company’s new “cultural norm,” to “do the right thing, period.”  Tony West, “Turning the lights on”, Uber blog (May 15, 2018) (available at https://ubr.to/2KrVhD1); see also Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new cultural norms, Linked In (Nov. 7, 2017)(available at https://bit.ly/2jaoiL7)(the author is the company’s chief executive officer).

The legal profession’s use of mandatory employment arbitration also has recalibrated, at least at some firms, in the wake of the #MeToo movement. In March, major law firms, including New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, San Francisco’s Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe and Los Angeles’ Munger, Tolles & Olson announced they would no longer require employees to sign onto mandatory employment arbitration agreements. The moves followed a Twitter attack invoking #MeToo directed primarily at Munger.

And on Monday, Yale Law School sent a letter on behalf of top law schools asking law firms that recruit on their campuses to “disclose whether they require summer associates to sign mandatory arbitration agreements and nondisclosure agreements related to workplace misconduct, including but not limited to sexual harassment.” Staci Zaretsky, “Elite Law Schools Demand That Biglaw Firms Disclose Whether Students Will Be Forced to Sign Arbitration Agreements,” Above the Law (May 14, 2018)(available at https://bit.ly/2ILJMZU).

 

Ms. Hershenberg is Vice President of Programs and Public Policy at CPR. She can be reached at ahershenberg@cpradr.org.

Ethics Issues in Mediation: Confronting the Maze of Confidentiality and Privilege

By Ginsey Varghese

With a rise in litigation about mediation, likely linked to its  increasingly common use, it is important to take a closer look at the ethical issues facing both the mediator and advocate in a mediation.

What are the ethical obligations of mediators to parties when engaged in “shuttle diplomacy” in private caucusing? How does blanket confidentiality in mediation agreements intersect with attorney-client and work product privilege? In disputes following mediation, will courts pierce the confidentiality of mediation? Can mediators be subpoenaed to testify?

These hairy contours of the law and mediation were addressed in an interactive panel hosted jointly by CPR, Practical Law, and Jenner & Block, LLP on January 8, 2018.  The panel was moderated by Steven Skulnik (Editor) of Practical Law, and featured Noah Hanft (President and CEO) of CPR, Bernadette Miragliotta (Managing Counsel) at American Express Company and Richard Ziegler (Partner) at Jenner & Block, LLP (pictured in the order, from left to right below).

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Almost 400 people attended the session via webinar, and another several dozen in person at Jenner & Block’s New York offices. The discussion was extremely engaging as the moderator, Mr. Skulnik, steered panelists’ conversations around realistic hypotheticals with live polling and immediate feedback from the audience.

The session began discussing a mediator’s duty of confidentiality in private caucus. Mr. Ziegler stated, “An effective mediator must review with the parties exactly what the mediator can say in caucusing with the other side.” All the panelists agreed, adding that mediators must be tactful in their language conveying information to guard the confidentiality of each side.

In a discussion about whether mediators should suggest specific dollar amounts for offers or demands, Ms. Miragliotta stressed that this should be avoided as it is essential that parties feel like it is their mediation…that they own the process and the settlement. It is not beneficial for parties to feel rushed into an outcome over which they do not feel ownership, she added.

Another important consideration  discussed is that there is no single uniform body of law on mediation across the 50 states jurisdictions and federal jurisdiction, and only 12 jurisdictions have adopted the Uniform Mediation Act.

As Mr. Hanft explained, knowledge on the applicable law or the necessary “magic words” in a particular jurisdiction when enforcing a settlement or protecting confidentiality in a post-mediation dispute is paramount. He also offered practical guidelines to ensure a settlement is more likely to be enforced.

The panelists deliberated a range of other topics: the complexities of Attorney-Client Privilege and Work Product Doctrine in a mediation; post-mediation disputes that commonly arise including settlement enforcement; mediation confidentiality issues in malpractice or non-party disputes; and best practices for mediator and advocates, among others.

As Jenner & Block’s Ziegler summarized, “Confidentiality in mediation is not ironclad.”

The final takeaway? When in mediation, be mindful of not crossing ethical lines and not inadvertently waiving attorney client privilege or work product protection.

An audio stream of the panel discussion is available In CPR’s member’s only Resources Library HERE (you must be logged in to view).

Sealing of Record to Confirm Arbitration Award Rejected in Favor of Specific Redactions of Only the Most Sensitive Information

Kantor Photo (8-2012)By Mark Kantor

A decision of the US District Court for the District of Columbia in the middle of last month offers a reminder of the hurdle a party must meet in order to seal from public access the entire record of a proceeding to confirm or vacate an arbitration award.  In XPO INTERMODAL, INC. v. American President Lines, Ltd., Civ. Action No. 17-2015 (PLF) (D. D.C., October 16, 2017)(available here – https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5024133744129204150&hl=en&lr=lang_en&as_sdt=20003&as_vis=1&oi=scholaralrt), the applicant (XPO INTERMODAL) sought an order in a confirmation proceeding to seal its petition to confirm the arbitration award (denominated, oddly, as a “Binding Mediation Decision”), as well as all exhibits.  US District Court Judge Paul L. Friedman denied the request notwithstanding a confidentiality provision in the contract underlying the arbitrated dispute (“this matter can and should be open to the public to the greatest extent possible”).  But he did order that the parties seek to agree in redactions of “only the most sensitive information.”

XPO INTERMODAL sought the order to seal “its Petition to Confirm Arbitration Award, as well as two exhibits attached thereto: the Binding Mediation Decision issued by the three-member mediation panel and the parties’ Amended and Restated Stacktrain Services Agreement and Schedules A-F and Appendices 1-4 thereto.”  The Court characterized that as a request deny public access to “what, in effect, amounts to the entire substantive record in this case.”   In support, the petitioner referred to the confidentiality provisions of the services agreement out of which the underlying dispute arose, and further stated that the award and exhibits contained “highly sensitive propriety [sic] commercial information,” including information regarding the parties’ “rates and business practices.””  Apart from those general arguments, however, XPO INTERMODAL offered little to the court to justify sealing the record.

In support of its motion, applicant directs the Court to the confidentiality terms of the parties’ Services Agreement and represents that “[b]oth parties have strong property and privacy interests in maintaining the confidentiality of these documents, as they contain highly sensitive propriety [sic] commercial information,” including information regarding the parties’ “rates and business practices.” See Mot. 4. Beyond these general assertions, however, applicant’s motion proffers little to justify sealing what, in effect, amounts to the entire substantive record in this case.

The District Court began its analysis by referring to the “strong tradition” of public access to judicial proceedings.

This country has a “strong tradition of access to judicial proceedings.” United States v. Hubbard, 650 F.2d 293, 317 n.89 (D.C. Cir. 1980). “[A]s a general rule, the courts are not intended to be, nor should they be, secretive places for the resolution of secret disputes.” United States v. Bank Julius, Baer & Co., 149 F. Supp. 3d 69, 70 (D.D.C. 2015) (citing Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978))….

Therefore, “[t]he starting point in considering a motion to seal court records is a strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial proceedings.”  To obtain an order to seal judicial records in the Federal courts despite this presumption, the applicant must satisfy the court regarding whether there is a need for public access, the extent of prior public access, whether someone has objected to disclosure, the strength of property and privacy interests, and the purposes of the documents in the court proceeding.

To determine whether a party seeking to seal court records has overcome this presumption, courts apply a six-factor balancing test to assess:

(1) the need for public access to the documents at issue; (2) the extent of previous public access to the documents; (3) the fact that someone has objected to disclosure, and the identity of that person; (4) the strength of any property and privacy interests asserted; (5) the possibility of prejudice in those opposing disclosure; and (6) the purposes for which the documents were introduced during the judicial proceedings.

After reciting this “six-factor balancing test,” though, Judge Friedman simply jumped to his conclusion without addressing how the various factors weighed in the circumstances of this application.  The only two factors noted by the District Court Judge in his analysis were the presumption in favor of public access and the ease of redaction.

Given the strong presumption in favor of public access and the ease with which confidential information may be redacted from documents before they are publicly filed, the Court concludes that this matter can and should be open to the public to the greatest extent possible.

Importantly, Judge Friedman was not persuaded that exhibits should be sealed in their entirety “simply because they contain or refer to confidential information.”  Generalized business interests in confidentiality (even if mutual between the parties) would not suffice, especially if redaction is feasible.

First, generalized business interests in confidentiality simply “do[] not rise to the level of the privacy and property interests that courts have permitted to outweigh the public’s right of access.” ….   This is particularly so where trade secrets, pricing, and other sensitive information regarding business practices or strategies may be redacted. ….

Judge Friedman noted in particular a line of cases rejecting the argument that confidentiality provisions in the underlying contract were sufficient to provide for sealing the judicial record.

Furthermore, the parties’ mutual desire for confidentiality, without more, does not justify the sealing of the entire substantive record of the case. See Grynberg v. BP P.L.C., 205 F. Supp. 3d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2016) (explaining that even if disclosure would violate the terms of the parties’ settlement and confidentiality agreements, such agreements between private parties “do not dictate whether documents can be filed under seal” (citing In re Fort Totten Metrorail Cases, 960 F. Supp. 2d 2, 9-11 (D.D.C. 2013))); see also Am. Prof. Agency v. NASW Assurance Serv., 121 F. Supp. 3d 21, 25 (D.D.C. 2013); Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. v. FTC, 710 F.2d at 1180.

The District Court acknowledged that XPO INTERMODAL’s confirmation filings appeared to contain “some potentially sensitive business information, including rates and schedules.”  Accordingly, the Court ordered the parties to seek to agree on redactions to the documents rather than complete sealing of the filings.

Here, it appears that the exhibits to applicant’s Petition do include some potentially sensitive business information, including rates and schedules, but the filings otherwise do not warrant sealing from the public. The Court thus sees no reason why the Petition itself should not be made publicly available in full, nor any reason why the exhibits thereto should not be made generally available, with only the most sensitive information redacted. The Court is confident that a more rigorous examination undertaken in good faith will lead to a more tailored and appropriate proposal for redaction.

****

FURTHER ORDERED that the parties shall confer regarding the Petition’s exhibits and submit proposed redactions to the Court on or before October 30, 2017

The simple lesson from XPO INTERMODAL is that, if the judge is paying attention, requests to seal the entirety of a judicial proceeding to confirm an arbitration award are likely to be met with an instruction instead to identify particular redactions of “only the most sensitive information.”

Mark Kantor is a CPR Distinguished Neutral and a regular contributor to CPR Speaks. Until he retired from Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, Mark was a partner in the Corporate and Project Finance Groups of the Firm. He currently serves as an arbitrator and mediator. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University Law Center (Recipient, Fahy Award for Outstanding Adjunct Professor). Additionally, Mr. Kantor is Editor-in-Chief of the online journal Transnational Dispute Management.

A DOA Exception? California’s Law Revision Commission Looks to Reassess Mediation Confidentiality as Commenters Blast its Legislative Recommendation

By Russ Bleemer

The prospects for a new California mediation confidentiality law that would provide an exception allowing parties to introduce evidence in a post-ADR malpractice case faded this week in the face of a frank report by the state commission that proposed the change.

“The opposition to the [California Law Revision] Commission’s tentative recommendation can only be described as overwhelming,” concludes Barbara Gaal, chief deputy counsel to the California Law Revision Commission, in a 36-page report released Wednesday.  She adds, “It is not unanimous, but it is deep and widespread. California’s mediation confidentiality statute may differ from those in other jurisdictions, providing greater protection in some respects, but a broad range of stakeholder organizations and many individuals appear to be well-satisfied with that approach and offer many reasons for their position.”

The new Sept. 27 report provides 155 pages of comments on a proposal to amend the state’s evidence that the commission has studied since 2012.  (The commission’s analysis is at http://bit.ly/2xQBnON; the comments are collected at http://bit.ly/2x2Dx9Y.) The amendment would add a new Section 1120.5 to the California Evidence Code, titled “Alleged misconduct of lawyer when representing client in mediation context.”

Because of an absolutist approach by the state’s courts, concerns have been raised for years over malpractice cases.  The state courts have barred the introduction of materials made in preparation for and used at mediation sessions in most cases.

The approach has provided a boost to California’s strong mediation culture, but has left victims of attorney malpractice with tough—some say insurmountable–paths to proving their claims.

The many comments submitted on the tentative recommendation “include scattered words of praise or appreciation for the Commission, its staff, its process, and its work on this study,” Gaal writes, but “[i]n general, however, they do not have much positive to say about the Commission’s proposal.”

Gaal urges the members of the commission to go back to the drawing board—not necessarily re-do the commission’s work (“Relationship Between Mediation Confidentiality and Attorney Malpractice and Other Misconduct – Study K-402,” available at http://www.clrc.ca.gov/K402.html), but re-examine the reasons the study was undertaken, and whether the commission wants to proceed with a recommendation to the legislature.

She writes that the staff urges the commission members to “re-read” the tentative recommendation’s “key policy considerations at stake” in the study in assessing the criticisms.  (Direct access to the tentative recommendation is at http://bit.ly/2x2ePqr .)

The 15-page policy section emphasizes that protecting mediation confidentiality “rests on four key premises”: confidentiality promotes candor in mediation; candid discussions lead to successful mediation; successful mediation encourages future use of mediation to resolve disputes; and mediation use in resolving disputes is beneficial to society.

“The preparation of a Commission recommendation is not a popularity contest, but rather a quest to develop an analytically sound proposal that will serve the citizens of California well,” Gaal advices. “Nonetheless, the degree of opposition to the Commission’s proposal suggests that careful reexamination of the competing consideration is in order.”

If the commission elects to go forward with the tentative recommendation, Gaal notes that the commission’s staff will prepare a memo—presumably on the reasons for the proposal to be forwarded to the legislature—for the commission’s December meeting.

The commission’s efforts were examined extensively in Jeff Kichaven, A California Correction? Legislature Will Consider Allowing Attorney Malpractice Proof from Mediation,” 35 Alternatives 97 (July/August 2017)(available at http://bit.ly/2sNUOm1), and “How California Intends to Recalibrate the Concept of Mediation Confidentiality,” 35 Alternatives 93 (June 2017)(available with a subscription or after login at www.cpradr.org at http://bit.ly/2sWyqr1).

Kichaven’s July/August Alternatives cover article, in which the Los Angeles mediator strongly backed the proposal, which will allow evidence from mediations pertaining to attorney malpractice to be introduced in litigation, was submitted as a comment.

The article also a comparatively rare show of support in the face of the avalanche of the “decidedly negative” reaction.  Among the reasons commenters opposed the proposal, according to the commission report:

  • It will undermine confidentiality;
  • It could harm mediation participants who are not parties to an attorney-client dispute
  • It will overburden the courts;
  • The proposed mediation confidentiality exception’s benefits are minimal compared to the downsides;
  • The exception “provides insufficient protection for mediator communications and will cause mediators to quit and mediator malpractice insurance rates to rise”;
  • It will threaten the stability of mediated settlements;
  • It would create the need to warn participants about the new proposed exception, “and that will create problems”;
  • It will hurt vulnerable groups;
  • It will affect attorneys disproportionately; and
  • It “is a trap for the unwary,” will yield unpredictable results, and unpredictable protection for mediation communications.”

“In light of the generally negative input on the tentative recommendation,” Chief Deputy Counsel Gaal writes, “the Commission should take a hard look at its options and consider how to proceed. While the Commission should not base its policy recommendations on political considerations, neither should it ignore practical reality. The goal of a Commission study is to achieve positive reform of the law. That requires the crafting of a balanced reform that has a realistic chance of enactment.” [Emphasis is in the original.]

The document lays out the Commission’s options: Proceed with the current proposal in the face of what likely will be strong legislative opposition; turn the tentative recommendation into an information report for the California Legislature without recommending or proposing legislation; limit the exception to the private attorney-client discussions in a mediation context, instead of allowing litigants to introduce communications from the proceedings itself, thereby shielding the mediator or its adversaries; develop an “informed consent approach” and circulate a revised tentative recommendation; or revisit all of the options raised in the study, including leaving the current law intact.

The author edits Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation for the CPR Institute. CPR Institute Fall 2017 Intern Angela Cipolla contributed to research.

 

Growth of Cannabis Plants and Issues Fertilizes Legal and ADR Business

By Judge Steven I. Platt (Ret.)

steven_125

If you think lawyers who are creative, indeed entrepreneurial, should be encouraged to ply their trade, and that emerging industries are fertile ground to do so, then you should give a shout-out to the rapidly expanding business of manufacturing, packaging, selling and distribution of cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes.

More and more states, including Maryland, are legalizing cannabis for multiple purposes. These jurisdictions are providing forums for the creation, development of new, and in some cases, eclectic business relationships. These include consulting agreements, distribution deals, partnerships, licensing relationships and even the co-authoring of “How-to Manuals.”

Like all other business dealings and organizations created for the purpose of developing new and different products for profit, the potential for disputes to arise between partners, competitors, and parties working together, one day and competing against each other the next, is present.

Due to the nature of the cannabis industry and its multiple levels and conflicting state and federal regulatory schemes, many individuals and businesses are choosing to use ADR instead of litigating when troubles or disputes arise. This is for a variety of reasons.

For one, there is a perception, or at least a concern, among the individuals and business organizations that are invested in this emerging industry as well as many of the lawyers and law firms who may represent them that judges and juries who don’t “like” them or “don’t like” what they do for historical and/or cultural reasons may “punish” them, i.e. not give them a fair hearing in their case. This perception can be effectively addressed by private mediation and/or arbitration by one or more Neutrals agreed upon by the parties and who hopefully have some knowledge of the industry.

This perception leads cannabis industry entrepreneurs to insert into their contracts, mandatory mediation and arbitration classes designed to avoid these negative possibilities.

Mediation, by its inherent nature, as well as, in certain situations, by statute, rule, or contract includes a confidentiality component. Confidentiality, as the state of Delaware found out the hard way, is prohibited in public dispute resolution forums, i.e. The Courts. Private Arbitration on the other hand, can be confidential if agreed upon and mandated accordingly by contract or by ADR provider rules.

Confidentiality is very important if the activity, or even part of the activity which is the subject of the dispute remains illegal under federal law even if it is legal in many states. This is the case with most of the activities associated with the cannabis industry. Evidence of this includes the refusal of most banks and other traditional financial institutions to finance the development of the industry and the companies which are forming within it. This reality is further evidenced by the refusal of colleges and universities to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry. It is noteworthy that the most recent example of this trend was our own University of Maryland School of Pharmacy, acting on the advice of the Maryland Attorney General’s Office cancelling plans to offer training for those who work in the medical marijuana industry.

This development has necessitated medical marijuana industry entrepreneurs and workers to search elsewhere for education and training on everything from how to set up their business, to how to grow, store, transport, market and sell. Their product as well as bookkeeping of their business while staying within the law, i.e., not running afoul of conflicting federal and state regulations of their businesses. They have found, by process of elimination, that the only sources for that education and training are other individuals and companies located in states which legalized medical, and in some cases, recreational marijuana use in previous years. These individuals and companies alone have the education, background, and most importantly the experience to provide the education and training needed to establish and develop potentially profitable medical marijuana enterprises here.

The result has been that these new entrepreneurs and their businesses are negotiating and entering into consulting contracts with experienced individuals and companies in the medical marijuana industry in other states in order to obtain information and training. These contracts are not easily crafted and understood even by lawyers familiar with the industry.

The relationships created by the contracts between the consulting companies and those who avail themselves of their services to provide start-up training are often fraught with the risk of the disclosure of trade secrets, as well as the violation of covenants not to compete, etc. In turn, the contracts often have provisions drafted to minimize, if not eliminate, those risks.

They are not always successful which in turn creates conflicts which if not resolved quickly and efficiently can kill an emerging medical marijuana business before it gets started. The result has been mediation and arbitrations generated by the dispute resolution provisions in these consulting contracts.

I have been involved as both a Mediator and an Arbitrator in a number of these cases involving lawyers and parties from across the country. Intermingled with these is litigation usually filed in multiple federal courts in an attempt to either consolidate in a geographically convenient or perceived philosophically friendly forum the cases involving identical parties or 3rd parties spun off for tactical reasons from other parties. No end to this time-consuming and expensive as well as in many cases overlapping litigation, arbitrating and mediations is in sight.

Indeed, my favorite case and experience so far is the case in which the parties and counsel sought dismissal or transfer of a case in which I was the Chair of a 3-Arbitrator Panel. They first sought that relief from the U.S. District Court in D.C. which not only declined to dismiss or transfer our arbitration case, but instead ordered the parties to proceed before my panel in Maryland or D.C. The losing party then came to our panel requesting the same relief. When we realized that they were asking the panel to, in effect, reverse the U.S. District Court’s decision, my only comment on behalf of The Panel which accompanied our negative decision was—“I’d ask you what you are smoking-but we already know.”

This post is reprinted with permission from “A Pursuit of Justice,” a blog by Judge Steven I. Platt (Ret.) that focuses on the intersection of law, economics, politics and the development of public policy.  Judge Platt currently owns and operates his own private Alternative Dispute Resolution Company, The Platt Group, Inc. through which several retired judges and experienced practitioners offer mediation, arbitration and neutral case evaluation services to business, governmental agencies and their lawyers mostly in complex litigation and disputes.  Judge Platt’s experience and vocation make him an expert in conflict resolution particularly in complex disputes whether they are political, economic, legal, or as most often the case all of the above. Judge Platt can be reached at info@apursuitofjustice.com or via his website at www.theplattgroup.com.

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.