Thursday, February 25, 2016

Sanctions for Shaq Skipping and Skyping into Mediation

In a Florida federal case, lawyers were sanctioned for advising their client, former NBA All-Star Shaquille O’Neal, that he didn’t need to personally attend court-ordered mediation. United States District Judge James Cohn of the Southern District of Florida ordered lawyers to pay $13,000 to cover mediation costs for a plaintiff who sued Shaq for allegedly ridiculing his appearance. Plaintiff has a rare genetic disorder that causes tooth loss and facial deformities and has since started an anti-bullying campaign on Facebook that attracted 20,000 members. Shaq posted a photo of himself on Instagram and Twitter stating "smile people" and imitating plaintiff's facial expressions. The lawsuit alleges defamation and invasion of privacy, though Shaq maintains there was no right to privacy because the photos were already on Instagram. He also said his conduct wasn’t so outrageous or extreme as to establish liability. Shaq reportedly attended via Skype and sent a representative to participate on his behalf, due to a television appearance conflict on the day of the mediation. The mediation order stated pursuant to Local Rule 16.2.E, the appearance of counsel and each party or a representative of each party with full authority to enter into a full and complete compromise and settlement is mandatory. The local rule says all parties shall be physically present at the mediation conference “unless excused in writing by the presiding judge.” Counsel argued unsuccessfully that the magistrate judge’s mediation order superseded the local rule, but local rule requires a federal district judge, not a magistrate judge, to excuse a party’s attendance in writing. See stories here-- and and local rule for court annexed mediation in the Southern District of Florida here--