Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ten Years Later: Florida Mediation Privilege

Success of mediation surely rests with confidentiality, allowing parties to share information, solve issues, build trust, and self-determine whether to resolve a dispute-- all without fear of subsequent disclosure of candid statements shared during the conference. A decade ago, Florida amended Chapter 44, Florida Statutes to create the Mediation Confidentiality and Privilege Act, § 44.401 et seq. Prior to 2004, it was unclear to what extent any privilege applied and when it could be asserted. Under the Act, all mediations, including both court-ordered and other types (like pre-suit and voluntary) were granted confidentiality protections. This made all mediation communications confidential and applies to all mediation participants. The use of mediation has grown significantly in Florida since these protections were codified. The assurance of confidentiality continues to be essential to the integrity and success of mediation. It still encourages candor between the parties and on the part of the mediator. In order for cases to have a chance of settling, the parties must have faith in the fundamental elements of neutrality and confidentiality with limited exceptions to the privilege outlined here-- http://www.flsenate.gov/Laws/Statutes/2014/44.405

Monday, October 13, 2014

E-Discovery Challenges Can Be Overcome Through Mediation

According to a recent article in Law Technology News by William Hamilton, Executive Director of University of Florida's E-Discovery Project, United States Magistrate Judge John Facciola of the District of Columbia-- with whom I've had the honor of serving together with as a panelist at last year's Innovate conference-- presented on coming changes at last week's Fall 2014 Distinguished Lecture. Judge Facciola opined that E-Discovery cooperation is designed to address the problem of asymmetrical attorney competence. Transparency, he said, is consistent with advocacy and competency. Failures often occur when less sophisticated practitioners make incorrect representations to the court and opposing counsel. A lack of transparency can be cover for incomplete preparation and research about the case and the relevant ESI. According to the article, Judge Facciola also said discovery disputes are a cry for help. As such, a new mode of case management that aggressively intercedes early in the case can address electronic discovery challenges. With aggressive case management, failure may be averted according to the judge. Similarly, E-Neutrals or mediators specializing in complex cases involving electronic evidence can shape discovery plans, allocate costs and suggest and create efficiencies. The mediation process may focus a confidential conference solely on managing ESI, or the neutral may broaden the discussion, reminding parties of the merits and perhaps dissuading them from merely using E-Discovery as a sword or shield. Mediation is an avenue that can present parties with significant cost-savings in ESI cases, if performed early enough in the litigation. As the wise judge said, “Litigation is about something—and it is not the back up tapes." The judge, who is retiring soon, emphasized that extraordinary costs of ESI litigation are driving small companies and the middle class out of the system, “I did not become a judge to be a hall monitor in a playground where only the rich can play.” The article appears here-- http://bit.ly/1rqJL9b and the full UF presentation is available here-- http://www.law.ufl.edu/academics/institutes/icair

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

FLABAR ADR Section Spotlights Upcoming Mediation Week

Michelle Jernigan, Editor of The Florida Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Section's News & Tips publication, has put forth a special edition featuring "Stories Mediators Tell" which is a theme of the American Bar Association's Mediation Week. She recounts that Florida's first Citizens Dispute Settlement Program began in 1975. In 1982, the Florida legislature passed a family mediation statute. In 1986, Florida's Supreme Court created the Florida Dispute Resolution Center to research and develop an infrastructure for a statewide ADR program covering all court contested matters. The following year, the Florida legislature passed one of the most comprehensive legislative ADR programs in the entire country. Since 1988, Florida courts have had authority to order parties to mediation. Jernigan writes that ADR procedures have now permanently altered the judicial culture of Florida. Most cases in Florida are voluntarily mediated at least once, and sometimes twice, in lieu of going to trial which has really become the alternative form of dispute resolution. Many parties seek to utilize pre-suit mediation before a lawsuit is even filed. Even litigants with contractual arbitration clauses frequently choose to mediate before submitting the dispute for final disposition to an arbitrator. Mediation Week will be celebrated nationally from October 12-18, 2014. See our ADR Section newsletter for more here: http://bit.ly/1v4cyYt

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Upchurch Speaks on Future of Mediation

Alternative Dispute Resolution pioneer John Upchurch of the firm Upchurch Watson White & Max shared his insights on the future of mediation at the Orange County Bar's ADR Committee Luncheon CLE today in Orlando. He was appointed by the Supreme Court of Florida as a charter member of the Supreme Court Committee on Mediation and Arbitration in 1989 and has been resolving disputes ever since. Upchurch opines that injecting creativity into the process could lead to future trends including non-traditional methods in Florida such as Early Neutral Evaluation or even so-called "Night" Baseball Arbitration. He also sees a potential for growth in E-Neutral services with the advent of E-Discovery rules and the need for stronger case management. As for the more typical types of cases, recent case law invalidating caps on medical malpractice damages and the start of new construction projects should lead to more opportunities to employ ADR services in the coming year. Upchurch also commented on the effects of lack of preparation for mediation and down-streaming of cases that need settling, including more follow-up and possibly reconvening parties and counsel. Finally, a discussion was had about the use of Special Magistrates in state court, much like Special Masters in federal court, to streamline discovery and enable quick decisions in a complex case to be made without judicial intervention beyond ratification or rejection of reports and recommendations.