Conflict Resolution

Advanced Problem-Solving Strategies

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The California Law Revision Commission has issued its draft recommendations for an amendment to the Evidence Code carving out a new exception to mediation confidentiality. This project has been about four years in the making, and was originally spurred by concern over the California Supreme Court’s decision in the Cassel case, which excluded evidence in support of a subsequent malpractice case, of alleged attorney misconduct in inducing their clients to settle a case in mediation. The Commission’s report, which runs to 158 pages, reflects a thorough process, but one that is probably going to be greeted with fear in the mediation community. Many mediators support an “absolute” exclusion of any evidence of statements made by anyone in the course of mediation, […]

Confidentiality agreements often serve the short-term interests of the parties to a particular dispute: An enterprise accused of wrongdoing has a strong interest in keeping its alleged wrongful actions secret, both to protect its reputation and to dissuade others from suing. At the same time, individuals bringing such accusations have an incentive to agree to requests for secrecy, which are often demanded in exchange for settlement payments. In the new movie Spotlight, in which a motion to unseal court records plays a central part, the practice of entering into confidential settlement agreements providing a small amount of compensation to victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, is portrayed as a shameful means of allowing the Church to cover up crimes […]

Some thoughts based on my experience with negotiation and mediation in general that may be relevant to the ongoing Congressional fight over passage of fast track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement (which suffered a major setback on Friday): First, there are great virtues in preserving the secrecy of negotiations until the deal is complete. Critics of the TPP have thrown suspicion onto the deal because many of its terms remain shrouded in secrecy. But confidentiality is something we fight to preserve in mediation and other forms of negotiated conflict resolution. One reason is to allow negotiators freedom to make aggressive offers and demands without fear of being second-guessed by their principals until the deal is completed. Another […]

I was interviewed recently by California mediator Doug Noll, on topics ranging from the business of mediation, to the decline in joint sessions, mediation confidentiality, and mediator certification. I also had a chance to trot out some of my pet theories about how to reform our justice system in general, and how mediation training is helpful in every walk of life, not just in training to become a mediator. The audio broadcast can be found here.

I will be speaking as part of a panel, along with Mary Culbert and Phyllis Pollack, on Saturday, February 28, 2015, at 10:00 a.m., at Loyola Law School. The topic is mediation confidentiality. It’s a timely subject, because recent cases have raised questions about whether the broad protections for mediation confidentiality in California, can still be relied upon. In particular, many mediators are troubled by the Milhouse case currently pending in the Ninth Circuit, which recognized a vaguely-defined “due process” exception to mediation confidentiality to allow evidence of offers and demands exchanged in an unsuccessful mediation to be introduced in an insurance bad faith case. In addition, the California Law Revision Commission is currently considering whether to allow an exception […]