Thursday, December 28, 2017

R.J. Reynolds to keep paying millions in FL Settlement

A Florida judge enforced a landmark settlement deal and ordered R.J. Reynolds to continue paying the state millions of dollars in tobacco settlement money, despite selling off major brands. The ruling comes nearly a year after Florida's Attorney General sued the tobacco company and Imperial Tobacco Group, a London-based company that took over North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc. Reportedly, the A.G. said payments will ensure Florida's historic tobacco settlement is honored and the state receives the money it is owed. Florida was already owed $45 million when the suit was filed and could lose $30 million a year going forward. The judge found that until R.J. Reynolds has its obligation to pay Florida transferred to Imperial Tobacco Group, it must continue to pay. R.J. Reynolds and other large tobacco companies were part of a 1997 multibillion-dollar settlement with Florida to compensate the state for treating sick smokers. However, the company since sold cigarette brands Kool, Winston, Salem and Maverick to Britain's Imperial Tobacco Group, with neither company continued to make payments to the state. Pushed by then-Governor Lawton Chiles, Florida was one of the first states in the U.S. to seek damages from tobacco companies. The state's initial lawsuit sought reimbursement for Medicaid costs in the past and the future and contended that tobacco companies had engaged in unlawful actions and misleading advertising. Last year, the state was projected to receive more than $350 million from the settlement. See full story here--

Friday, December 15, 2017

FL Senate Mediation Authority Bill

A new bill for the 2018 Florida legislative session has been introduced requiring that insurance carrier representatives who attend circuit court mediations have specified settlement authority and the ability to immediately consult by specified means with persons having certain additional settlement authority and to be available by telephone. Senate Bill SB 1034 would create Section 44.407, Florida Statutes, which would allow sanctions for insurance carriers that fail to comply with good faith requirements of mediation (a term never truly defined). Additionally, Section 44.408 would compel certain third parties to attend mediation upon the request of the mediator or be available to teleconference, though not required to pay any mediation fees by participating. Also, Section 44.409 would limit information that may be included in the mediator’s report to the court. The new law would allow only the following reporting: (a) A complete agreement was reached (b) A partial agreement was reached (c) No agreement was reached. If a partial agreement was reached which eliminates claims or parties from the litigation, a list of such claims and parties may be provided, but no additional information may be disclosed. If passed, and signed by the governor, this act would take effect July 1, 2018. The Executive Council of The Florida Bar Alternative Dispute Resolution Section on which I serve is looking at this legislative development and will take up the issue at its January, 2018 meeting in Orlando. See proposed language filed here-- and ADR Section info at

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Favoritism Frowned Upon

A Florida County Judge saw fit to refer hundreds of mediations to her former campaign adviser, resulting in discipline. Judge Claudia Robinson admitted steering some 80 percent of her pending cases to the same mediator, Michael Ahearn, an unpaid adviser on her 2014 mostly self-funded election campaign. Judge Robinson acknowledged she contravened judicial canons by “creating the appearance of impropriety and favoritism” in her dealings with her former political consultant. The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) did not find that Robinson entered into a formal agreement to compensate Mediator Ahearn for his campaign services, which would have been illegal. In each case in which he was appointed, the parties involved had the right to reject his appointment in favor of another mediator. Ahearn actually worked on 174 of 296 cases the judge ordered into mediation, but was assigned to 245 as default mediator if the litigants did not choose an alternative within 10 days. The mediator charged $250-$300 per hour with a one-hour minimum. Ahearn testified he and the judge never agreed she would direct cases his way in exchange for his pro-bono campaign consulting work. Judge Robinson reportedly broadened the pool of mediators after a journalist broke the story. The news story by an investigative reporter also prompted an ethics complaint against the mediator, who denied any wrongdoing. The Florida Bar investigated those allegations and dismissed a bar complaint finding no inappropriate relationship between mediator and judge. The judge now faces a 30-day suspension without pay, based on the JQC’s recommended stipulation. The Florida Supreme Court now has the discretion to accept or reject the terms of the stipulation. See more here-- and