by C. Jean Stewart
I have spent the last few days at the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California participating in one of their excellent advanced mediation courses with alternative dispute resolution practitioners from around the world. We devoted plenty of class time to the discussion and appreciation of designing dispute resolution scenarios that will yield success.
Spending the time and effort to design an appropriate alternative dispute resolution model can pay handsome dividends. I have always observed that cases that are rushed into mediation, without adequate attention paid to the design and preparation phase, frequently yield dissatisfaction in one or more dimensions. I thought I would report here on a satisfying result that recently came from a thoughtfully planned process.
Counsel in a contested trust matter approached me to design an arbitration/mediation session that has persuaded me to encourage parties and their counsel to consider this idea when faced with a certain kind of dispute.
Here’s how it worked: In preparation for Stage One of the session, counsel presented statements that were NOT confidential, but were shared with me and with each other. Counsel included some stipulated exhibits and pleadings. The engagement included an understanding that there would be NO ex parte communications with me until Stage One of the session was completed. The parties had agreed to abide by whatever award/decision I made on the issues, but more importantly, agreed that before I informed them of that award/decision, they would participate in good faith mediation.
On the day the session began, Stage One was an arbitration in the form of a mini-trial complete with opening statements, direct and cross examination of a witness on each side of the case, admission of the stipulated exhibits and closing arguments. At the end of the mini-trial, I took a brief recess, recorded my decision in a brief written summary, placed it in a sealed envelope that I signed and laid aside.
We then adjourned to Stage Two, which was a mediation, including private caucuses, where the parties made confidential disclosures to me and participated in meaningful, good faith negotiations leading to a settlement of the issues which was reduced to written form and signed by the parties. Ultimately the sealed envelope containing the award/decision was shredded without being revealed to either party or to counsel.
This model is appropriate in cases where the parties want a final and definitive resolution without additional litigation in a case with discrete, identifiable issues. It addresses the several ethical issues that have prevented me from agreeing to participate in arbitration after a mediation session for the same parties. Some of the other factors that contributed to the success of this model were: These attorneys were both excellent, presenting crisp and efficient arguments and witness examinations. Their clients were attentive and engaged and left me with a clear understanding of the issues. I applaud these attorneys for creating this opportunity for dispute resolution that I will surely recommend again when the occasion arises.
I also appreciate the opportunity to apply the Latin expression that was emphasized in our sessions at the Straus Institute, Finis Origine Pendet - “the end depends on the beginning.”