Saturday, July 17, 2021

Mediator Testimony?

A recent query to the Florida Mediator Ethics Advisory Council (MEAC) invovled a federal court outside the state contacting the mediator regarding a post mediation status conference. Apparently, the parties gave different accounts of what occurred and the mediator was called for an opinion of the veracity of such irreconcilable statements. The mediator informed the court it would concern knowledge learned through confidential and privileged mediation communications and refused to provide same (the mediation was conducted pursuant to Florida rules and statutes). Thereafter, the mediator was ordered to "answer the question of whether plaintiff made a demand and whether the defendants made any counteroffer during the mediation, but not disclose any specific statements of the parties or the substance of their positions." MEAC advised that a mediator should not voluntarily testify in court regarding information learned in court unless confidentiality is waived by the parties or such communications fall within the exceptions listed in Chapter 44, Florida Statutes. Because this was not truly a Florida case and outside its jurisdiction, MEAC merely reaffirmed previous positions that a mediator should not voluntarily testify in court regarding information learned in mediation unless the parties waive confidentiality, or the communications fall within the exceptions found in Section 44.405, Florida Statutes. If a court issues an order for the mediator to testify, the mediator should either file a protective order or notify the judge that the mediator is statutorily required to maintain confidentiality of mediation communications. Interestingly, a Florida court decision published this month by the Fifth District Court of Appeal opining a motion to reform a mediated settlement agreement adequately alleging a claim for relief based on mutual mistake must be resolved by evidentiary hearing mentions in a footnote that a mediator would be permitted to provide testimony for the limited purpose of establishing or refuting legally recognized grounds for reforming a settlement agreement reached during a mediation pursuant to Section 44.405(4)(a)5, Florida Statutes. See more in MEAC Opinion 2021-005 and 5th DCA Case No. 5D21-316