Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Judge Vacates Emergency Order for Mediation Notes

This month, in an extremely rare move, a federal judge in Washington, D.C. first issued and later vacated an emergency order to preserve the notes of a mediation session in which an attorney allegedly threatened a female partner suing the firm for gender discrimination and pay inequity. Plaintiff, Jane Doe, alleges that another of her firm's attorneys illegally threatened retaliation against her during mediation, saying she was going to be terminated. Plaintiff desired the mediator’s notes in order to prove the exchange happened. The mediator was initially ordered to preserve notes and all other documents related to the session, with no indication whether material would ultimately be found relevant or admissible in the case. Such files are typically destroyed after mediation in order to preserve the confidentiality of the mediation process which allows the ability of parties to be open in session. Florida's Mediation Confidentiality and Privilege Act has very limited exceptions. Even in cases where mediation privilege is waived with consent of both parties, any records are produced in chambers in order to protect confidentiality. Allowing mediation notes to be used in lawsuits is quite disturbing and undermines the whole process, according to experts. JAMS, the ADR provider at this mediation, argued Doe should not have requested a preservation order for session notes because it already informed both parties that the notes would not be destroyed since they were subpoenaed. Doe acknowledged that JAMS said it would suspend its policy of destroying the records until issues surrounding the production of the documents in question are resolved, but asked the court to keep the preservation order in place. Plaintiff's motion was premised on an assertion that "a preservation order is necessary to preserve crucial evidence destined for immediate destruction" and that "absent a court order, it is virtually certain that this evidence will be lost." U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson found since that did not appear to be the case, there is no longer any "emergency" warranting relief, and vacated her previous order. See Jane Doe v. Proskauer Rose LLP, case number 1:17-cv-00901 and more reported here-- and