Thursday, December 8, 2022

FL S. Ct. Improved Resolution Workgroup Rules OA

The Supreme Court of Florida heard oral argument today on a package of rules proposed by their appointed Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases that might forever impact our state court system in a major way. These amendments are proposed as a paradigm shift to change the legal community and the perceived problems such as that current rules engender delay culture and firmer deadlines move cases. Firm trial dates, dates for discovery cutoffs and dispositive motions that are enforced by active case management can promote efficient resolution of cases according to the judges creating these proposed rules. Hearing time is a precious commodity that is often wasted with cancellation as are trial weeks according to Chief Judge Morris of the 2d DCA who reports that a mere 0.04% of cases end up in trial. Some judges appearing advocated the integration of county clerks' computer systems and the judicial case systems to alleviate duplication and promote standardization such as PACER in the federal system. The Civil Rules Committee chair said the adoption of the federal summary judgment rule brought the case law relied on in that system for clarity, but cautioned that the wide swath of changes to aggressive case management would shock the system and create growing pains with litigation on those changes. Justice Canady, who oversaw the Covid-19 crisis in the courts, said serving the litigants was the reason emergency procedures were ordered and now the court wants to see how to institutionalize those changes that proved successful in getting cases at issue during the pandemic. Justice Polston expressed concern with cases that are falling far behind or that just plain languish. He was also concerned parties should be exempt from the case management rubric in cases that are subject to Arbitration. Justice Labarga said when he was a trial judge, lawyers did not adhere to deadlines, especially with experts. Justice Muniz questioned why not implement proportionality in discovery like federal court and was told by a sophisticated commenter that our state system was just not ready to address that. The bar's Business Law Section is in favor of proportionality and also agreed with imposing track rules on cases except for presumptive streamlining of bench trials. The Appellate Rules Committee did not like substantive standards of review found in a few of these procedural rules. Probate practitioners were concerned about the disparity in dockets around the state and increased judicial decisionmaking versus routine uncontested proceedings. Critics of the sweeping package took issue with the lack of resources to implement these changes and technical irreconcilable differences between some of the rules. Others feared increased sanctions and less continuances. Judge Bailey responded on behalf of her workgroup arguing that because civil justice costs too much and takes too long, the public has lost faith and these case management changes are needed. While there were concerns over standardizing hearing procedures, everyone agreed an educational effort is needed in conjunction with the rollout of these rules. See more here-- and Case No. SC22-122

Thursday, November 3, 2022

SDFL Rules Favor Remote Attendance

Next month, new mediation rules take effect in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. After hearing from the bar on format and giving the public an opportunity to comment, the federal court decided in favor of remote attendance. Unless the court orders otherwise, under Local Rule 16.2, Court Annexed Mediation, the parties shall decide whether their mediation conference will be conducted in person or by video-conference and, if the parties cannot agree, the mediation conference shall be held by video-conference. Additionally, unless excused in writing by the court, all parties and required claims professionals (e.g., insurance adjusters) must participate in the mediation conference with full authority to negotiate a settlement which includes connecting and participating by video and audio. Lately, we've seen some parties appear with black screens, muted on Zoom. This change seems to attempt to address that trend and level the playing field, alleviating the need for mediators to compromise their neutrality in acting as policemen for the process. See more here for rules that take effect December 1, 2022--

Monday, October 17, 2022

Mediation Week 2022

Every October, we celebrate the impact of the mediation process and its professionals on the many disputes in the world. Mediation Week in Florida and elsewhere marks the importance of dispute resolution as an effective substitute to litigation. In fact, mediation has helped litigants get through our recent challenges, evolving to widely accepted remote attendance allowing parties to resolve disputes without trial in a still backed-up court system. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has been used by Florida courts for more than 30 years. Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) will now serve as an official option following the pandemic through sessions conducted with readily available technology. Florida's Dispute Resolution Center continues to require specific standards set by the Florida Supreme Court in the areas of county, family, circuit, dependency, and appellate mediation during these virtual sessions. Mediation week brings annual focus on ADR work and highlights how individuals, administrative agencies, and businesses can use mediation to develop efficient and customized solutions to conflicts. Just by searching #mediationweek online, you may find a variety of resources from venerable organizations like the American Bar Association (ABA) or the Federal Mediation and Concilliation Service (FMCS) which is celebrating its 75th anniversary with free programs on cutting-edge topics, practices, and examinations on conflict prevention, management, and resolution this week. See more here--

Thursday, September 1, 2022

What is a Special Master anyway?

All federal courts have the power to appoint a Special Master (or as it is known in Florida state courts Special Magistrate) to assist with reviewing and deciding discovery in contentious cases. Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the appointment of masters in federal court usually, but not always, with consent of the parties. In our state court, it is found in various procedural rules and Florida Statutes that empower judges, as well as bodies like county commissions, to obtain assistance in deciding matters. Many federal and state court judges use masters and likely more will do so in the future. Because of their substantial caseloads, many federal district judges and their assigned magistrate judges do not have sufficient time for the tasks inherent in the administration of complex, multi-party, and class action cases. Judges need to conserve and preserve their time to rule on pretrial matters and to try cases. With demanding dockets and tight court budgets, judges turn to skilled neutrals for help in getting the parties relief. These special court appointees usually come with specialized knowledge and are ordered to perform a broad or limited scope of duties such as monitoring discovery, resolving time-consuming disputes, helping with complex E-discovery problems involving electronically stored information (ESI) (typically in high-stakes cases involving employment, intellectual property, products and technology), and coordinating multi-party and multi-district litigation (MDL) cases. A Special Master can markedly reduce the burden on a judge and the court’s administrative staff. When assigned to a case, I routinely review the potentially relevant discovery in camera and provide the court with findings or recommendations regarding the legal status and factual nature of the information. Parties and lawyers recognize that the appointment of a master can save them substantial fees and costs, and can lead to a much quicker resolution of their disputes. Sophisticated parties who regularly use professional and experienced masters know how valuable we can be to expedited case handling and in getting quicker resolution. See more here--

Monday, August 1, 2022

Permanent Remote Mediation Authorized By Fla. S. Ct.

This summer, the Florida Supreme Court provided permanent civil rule changes authorizing the remote conduct of certain court proceedings including mediation, appellate mediation and arbitration. The court's Workgroup on Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 was directed to identify whether certain proceedings, due to efficiencies beneficial to stakeholders, could continue to be conducted remotely when COVID-19 no longer presents a significant risk to public health and safety. The Workgroup determined that permanent, broader authorization for remote proceedings was warranted based on the positive outcomes and efficiencies observed during the pandemic. Beginning with Rule 1.700, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, common to mediation and arbitration, the amended language now provides for use of communication technology (as that term is defined in Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.530) authorized in mediation and arbitration by stipulation of the parties or by court order. Absent direction in the order of referral, mediation or arbitration must be conducted in person, unless the parties stipulate or the court, on its own motion or on motion by a party, otherwise orders that the proceeding be conducted by communication technology or by a combination of communication technology and in-person participation. Also of note, is that Rule 1.720 now states a party is deemed to appear at a mediation conference if physically present or, if authorized, participating through the use of communication technology. Please note under Rule 1.730, if an agreement is reached, it must be reduced to writing and signed by the parties and their counsel, by original signature, electronic signature, or facsimile and may be in counterparts. Importantly, the parties may not object to the enforceability of an agreement on the ground that communication technology was used for participation in the mediation conference if such use was authorized. Similar language is found in Rule 1.750 in regard to county court mediation. The communication technology provisions also apply to appellate mediation and are found in revised Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure 9.700, 9.720 and 9.740. These amendments become effective October 1, 2022 and recognize the sea change that took place during court closures. The shift to remote proceedings helped ease a backlog of cases by litigants being able to access hearings and alternative dispute resolution though Zoom and other available online platforms to resolve matters. See complete opinion here--

Friday, July 1, 2022

SCOTUS Arbitration Decisions

As this tumultous term comes to a close, a pair of recent employment case rulings has given some to insight into the future of the U.S. Supreme Court's direction on arbitration which has been pretty firm as of late. Traditionally, the Court has relied upon precendent and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) in enforcing the right to arbitrate as contractual in nature and upholding those agreements. More recently, the Court is reversing decisions that apply even-handed rules to the FAA. In Morgan v. Sundance, a unanimous Court rejected the two-part test applied by most federal circuits in evaluating whether a party has waived its right to compel enforcement of an arbitration agreement. Under that test, waiver would be found only if a party acted in a manner inconsistent with its arbitration rights and that inconsistency caused prejudice to the other side. The principal justification for requiring prejudice was federal policy favoring arbitration. Finding that the usual test for contractual waiver typically requires only inconsistent conduct, the Court held it improper to add a prejudice requirement onto the waiver analysis just for arbitration agreements. The text of the FAA makes clear that courts are not to create arbitration-specific procedural rules. In Viking River Cruises v. Moriana, eight of nine justices agreed with the result relying in part on a severability provision in the arbitration agreement to narrow an otherwise invalid wholesale waiver of state Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) claims. This suggests that whether courts will compel arbitration of individual PAGA claims may turn on the specific language of the arbitration agreement at issue. The lone dissent came from Justice Thomas, who long has viewed the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to cases in state courts. The FAA also can preempt rules “that are generally applicable as a formal matter” but have the effect of making arbitration agreements ineffective because they are inherently inconsistent with arbitration. Such rules would include those that would require a party to arbitrate on a class basis or not at all. See decisions-- and and more here-- and

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Join me at Lawyer/Mediator Forum at Florida Bar President’s Showcase!

In order to improve the mediation process, The Florida Bar’s Trial Lawyers and Alternative Dispute Resolution Sections are engaging in a unique collaboration to co-host the first “Litigator-Mediator Forum” at the President's Showcase during our Annual Convention in Orlando on June 23, 2022 from 1-4 pm. This two-part CLE presentation will provide trial lawyers and mediators a direct platform to discuss how to make mediation more effective and efficient. The purpose of the Forum is not just to provide continuing legal education to trial lawyers and mediators on ethical rules and mediation advocacy skills, but to exchange ideas for improving the mediation process in all areas. Mediation has never been a more critical and timely topic in Florida due to the over one million case backlog created by the pandemic that continues challenging our courts and delaying access to justice for Florida litigants. As nearly all cases are now settled before trial, and most cases are settled at mediation, effective mediation advocacy and negotiating skills are essential to achieving justice. This topic is also timely because the Florida Supreme Court is presently considering several significant changes to the ethical rules governing mediation as well as case management restructuring and these rule changes will be discussed during the Forum. I am honored to have been selected as one of the Table Leaders who will facilitate discussion between trial lawyers and mediators regarding three topics designed to encourage recommendations by the audience on how trial lawyers and mediators can partner better together to improve mediation within the ethical rules governing dispute resolution. See more about this exciting program here--

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Breach of Confidence at SCOTUS

Somewhat overshadowed by yesterday's news of Roe's imminent demise was the unprecedented nature of the leak to the press of an unpublished and confidential draft opinion in a pending case. After such a breach of trust committed by someone with access at U.S. Supreme Court, there is no telling what will happen going forward in terms of perceptions of integrity and legitimacy of this institution. The environment inside the building is sure to be tense. Outside the courthouse, erosion of public confidence in the third branch of government continues. As the Court states, its Justices circulate draft opinions internally as a routine and essential part of the Court’s confidential deliberative work. Chief Justice Roberts in directing an investigation by the Marshal has revealed the draft to be authentic, but cautions it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case. He also states, "to the extent this betrayal of the confidences of the Court was intended to undermine the integrity of our operations, it will not succeed. The work of the Court will not be affected in any way." Imagine what damage could be done to parties or their interests if the results of votes to any future case were routinely leaked. What if people traded on information from what was once considered kept a sacred place before justice was rendered? How about the rest of the federal and even state judiciary? For now, the Chief Justice still believes the Court has intensely loyal employees who remain dedicated to the rule of law. "Court employees have an exemplary and important tradition of respecting the confidentiality of the judicial process and upholding the trust of the Court. This was a singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here." See Court press release here--

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Comments on Non-Binding Arbitration due 5/6

The Supreme Court of Florida's Standing Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy is charged with monitoring and making recommendations to improve and expand the use of court-connected Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) not limited to mediation through the recommendation of the adoption of statutes, rules, policies, and procedures. This Committee is seeking feedback on two proposed amendments related to statutory non-binding arbitration. Specifically, they are considering revisions to Rule 1.820, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure (Hearing Procedures for Non-Binding Arbitration) and Section 44.103, Florida Statutes (Court-ordered, nonbinding arbitration). While the ADR Section of the Florida Bar whose Executive Council on which I serve will be commenting on behalf of its almost one thousand members, please consider individually responding to these proposals. The Florida State Court System consists of 20 judicial circuits that encompass Florida’s 67 counties and so practice in this area of ADR varies widely under local administrative orders. Comments are due to the Florida Dispute Resolution Center on or before Friday, May 6, 2022, via The proposed revisions can be found here-- and

Friday, April 1, 2022

FAA Jurisdiction Case Decided by SCOTUS

The Supreme Court of the United States yesterday issued an important ruling on federal court jurisdiction in matters governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) saying it does not allow federal courts to “look through” to the dispute underlying an arbitration to establish jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitration award. The FAA authorizes a party to an arbitration agreement to petition a federal court for various forms of relief. The Act’s authorization of such petitions does not itself create the subject matter jurisdiction necessary for a federal court to resolve them. Previously, in Vaden v. Discover Bank, the Court assessed whether there was a jurisdictional basis to decide an FAA Section 4 petition to compel arbitration by means of examining the parties’ underlying dispute. Specific language in Section 4 instructed a federal court to “look through” the petition to the “underlying substantive controversy.” If the dispute underlying a Section 4 petition falls within the court’s jurisdiction for example, by presenting a federal question, then the court may rule on the petition to compel arbitration. In this case, Badgerow v. Walters, the question presented was whether that “look-through” approach to jurisdiction applies to applications to confirm or vacate arbitral awards under Sections 9 and 10 of the FAA. The majority ruled Congress chose to respect the capacity of state courts to properly enforce arbitral awards. Justice Kagan writes "the look-through rule is a highly unusual one: It locates jurisdiction not in the action actually before the court, but in another controversy neither there nor ever meant to be." This application in an employment termination case should go to state, rather than federal, court raising claims between non-diverse parties involving state law. See opinion here--

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Free Online Mediation CLE/CME 3/18

Join us March 18th at 1:00 pm EST for Mediator’s Notebook = Attorney’s Toolbox, a free CLE/CME Webinar with 1.5 credits of CLE from The Florida Bar, but that's not all you'll gain by attending. Whether you are representing plaintiffs or defendants, you'll gain valuable insights on helping your mediator to put everyone's focus on the path to reasonable resolution. Attorneys can often help a mediator to assess what barriers to settlement may exist. We will address what pre-mediation preparation to consider. Additionally, we will cover laying the groundwork for ongoing discussions through messaging. It is often said a case is not worth a penny more than someone is willing to pay or a penny less than someone is willing to accept. We'll discuss how those most patient at mediation have the most to gain. More information and registration details here--

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Oral Argument On FL Remote Proceedings Rules

Today, the Supreme Court of Florida heard from various commenters, interest groups and bar sections on the changes proposed to multiple procedural rules to include attendance by remote technology, including mediation. The Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations and Proceedings During and After COVID-19 filed a comprehensive petition to amend the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, the Florida Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration, the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Florida Probate Rules, the Florida Rules of Traffic Court, the Florida Small Claims Rules, and the Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure. The proposed amendments would provide permanent, broader authorization for the remote conduct of court proceedings. The justices seemed largely receptive to the package and had few questions for those appearing at oral argument, indicating the new rules package will most likely be accepted as proposed. See more in docket here-- and oral argument here--

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Call for 30th DRC Conference Proposals

The Florida Dispute Resolution Center (DRC) 30th Annual Conference will be held at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando on August 11-13, 2022. DRC is asking for submissions for workshop proposals and to become part of the conference faculty. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) professionals play a major part in enhancing access to justice by offering parties an opportunity to minimize the time and money they spend interacting with the court system and by modernizing the facilitation process by using technology. Mediators also promote public trust and confidence in the court system by maintaining education on high standards of professionalism and ethical behavior when assisting parties in settling their disputes. This conference, now in its third decade, provides an annual forum for enhancing your skills and knowledge regarding ADR, especially as our world continues to demonstrate a need for professionals who can promote civil discourse when presenting options to resolve disputes. Consider training your fellow mediators by sharing the latest in your experience. I have presented here in the past and encourage you to do the same. If your workshop submission is selected, you will be asked to present twice during the conference. The deadline for submission is February 25th and workshop selections will be confirmed in early April 2022. You will receive a full conference registration waiver, and if applicable, a second presenter will receive $50 off registration fees. You will receive a confirmation email after you submit the form. If you do not receive a confirmation email, the form was not successfully submitted. The DRC recommends gathering all information required prior to beginning to filling out the form located at here--