Does a Prior Relationship With a Party Impair a Mediator’s Neutrality? California Says No

Merge Mediation Group
Contact

Few fans of the hit television series Law & Order are likely aware that the show gave rise to a real-life California divorce drama in which mediation played a central role.

In August 2003, the creator of Law & Order, Richard Wolf entered into a marital settlement agreement (MSA) with his then-wife Christine Wolf to dissolve their marriage. The MSA was the product of a voluntary mediation facilitated by a certain Martin Weinberg.

Problems started shortly after execution of the MSA when Christine learned that Richard and NBC (which aired Law & Order) had struck a billion dollar deal regarding profit participation in the series. Christine sued in state court to set the MSA aside on the ground that Richard had concealed assets. The court ruled that there was no concealment.

Christine subsequently sued the mediator (Weinberg) and his former employer in federal court for allegedly withholding critical information regarding the value of Richard’s assets during the mediation. The case was dismissed by the federal court on jurisdictional grounds, but refiled by Christine in California state court.

The allegation of misconduct by a mediator during a mediation implicated Section 1119 of the California Evidence Code, which renders any statement or writing made during the course of a mediation inadmissible in any subsequent civil proceeding, and further provides that “[a]ll communications, negotiations, or settlement discussions by and between participants in the course of a mediation or a mediation consultation shall remain confidential.” After Christine moved to compel production of certain documents from Weinberg, and Weinberg refused on the ground of mediation privilege, the trial court addressed whether Section 1119 rendered the documents sought by Christine inadmissible.

Christine argued that Section 1119 only protects individuals who qualify as a “mediator,” and Section 1115(b) defines “mediator” as a “a neutral person who conducts a mediation,” and “mediation” as “a process in which a neutral person or persons facilitate communication between the disputants to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable agreement.” (emphasis added). Weinberg was not “neutral,” according to Christine, because he allegedly had a preexisting relationship with Richard and an interest in obtaining business from Richard after the marital dissolution. Christine contended that this alleged lack of neutrality deprived Weinberg of the protections of Section 1119.

The trial court rejected Christine’s definition of “neutral” as incorporating a “bias” element, and its decision was recently affirmed by a California appellate court. See Wolf v. Loring Ward Int’l, 2019 WL 1922920 (Cal. Ct. App. Apr. 30, 2019).

The trial court noted that the confidentiality protections afforded to mediations under California law are “zealously guarded” as essential to the success of the mediation process, and thus have been broadly construed to apply “even in situations where justice seems to call for a different result.” The appellate court concurred, noting that the mediation confidentiality statute is “not subject to a ‘good cause’ exception” such as where a party alleges bad faith or other misconduct during the mediation.

Given the broad protection afforded to mediation confidentiality, the trial court concluded that “the term ‘neutral person’ [in Section 1115] focused not on a person’s state of mind or subjective opinions regarding the parties’ positions, but instead on a role within the process of negotiation by both parties.” (emphasis added). The appellate court agreed, interpreting “neutral person” narrowly as a noun to mean a third party “who does not act as either party’s representative and who is not in a position to decide the dispute,” but who instead “performs the role of an intermediary to facilitate negotiations between the parties so as to enable them to mutually resolve their dispute.” (emphasis added).

At the same time, the appellate court rejected construction of the term “neutral” as an adjective that imposed impartiality standards on mediators. The appellate court found this conclusion was consistent with the legislative history surrounding a 1993 amendment of the statute that considered, but ultimately rejected defining a mediator as an “impartial third party,” as opposed to a “neutral person,” in connection with a pilot mediation project in Los Angeles County.

Additionally, legislative history from a 1996 amendment showed that the California legislature had considered, but declined to adopt a provision imposing standards for bias, conflicts of interest or disclosure on mediators. Nor was there any legislative history indicating any intent to “limit the definition of a mediator to exclude those who had any form of prior relationship with a party to the mediation.” To the contrary, the legislative history reflected a desire to enable a wide variety of individuals to serve as mediators under circumstances in which a mediator would likely have a prior relationship with a party.

Finally, the appellate court observed, “there is nothing in the entire statutory scheme governing the mediation privilege in section 1115-1128 that requires a mediator to disclose conflicts of interest, or that conditions the mediation privilege on the disclosure of such conflicts of interest or on their absence.” (author note: Section 1129 of the California Evidence Code, which became effective on January 1, 2019, requires an attorney representing a client participating in a mediation or a mediation consultation to “as soon as reasonably possible before the client agrees to participate in the mediation or mediation consultation, provide that client with a printed disclosure containing the confidentiality restrictions described in Section 1119 and obtain a printed acknowledgment signed by that client stating that he or she has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions.”).

The trial court found, and the appellate court concurred, that even were an “impartiality” requirement grafted on to the definition of “mediator” in Section 1115, the evidence in the record failed to support any inference that Weinberg was not impartial. Very interesting that both the trial court and appellate court undertook that additional analysis after already rejecting Christine’s proposed construction of the statute. One wonders whether the decision would have come out any differently had there been overwhelming evidence of bias, notwithstanding the appellate court’s clear holding that the mediation confidentiality statute is not subject to a “good cause” exception to correct perceived injustices.

Notably, the California mediation statute, as interpreted in Wolf, stands in contrast to Section 9 of the Uniform Mediation Act (UMA), which expressly (i) obligates a mediator to disclose “any known facts that a reasonable individual would consider likely to affect the impartiality of the mediator, including a financial or personal interest in the outcome of the mediation and an existing or past relationship with a mediation party or foreseeable participant in the mediation,” (ii) denies the mediation privilege under Section 4 of the UMA to a mediator who fails to provide such disclosure, and (iii) suggests language imposing an impartiality requirement.

Also standing in contrast to Wolf is a decision such as Hauzinger v. Hauzinger, 842 N.Y.S.2d 646, 647 (4th Dept. 2007), aff’d, 10 N.Y.3d 923 (2008), in which the New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department, affirmed a lower court’s order denying a mediator’s motion to quash the subpoena issued by the wife in a subsequent matrimonial action seeking the mediator’s appearance at a deposition and the mediator’s records in connection with the mediation he conducted with the parties before the commencement of the action. The New York appellate court observed that the parties were not represented by counsel when they participated in the mediation process that concluded with the execution of a separation agreement. It also noted that applicable provisions of New York’s domestic relations statute obligated the lower court to determine the fairness of the separation agreement at the time it was made. Based on the foregoing, the appellate court rejected the mediator’s argument that “the trial court abused its discretion in refusing to enforce the confidentiality agreement entered into by the parties as part of the mediation process, and in refusing to quash the subpoena as a matter of public policy.” In particular, the appellate court to declined the mediator’s invitation to apply the confidentiality provisions in the Uniform Mediation Act as a matter of public policy, noting that New York had not adopted the UMA (it still has not).

We invite readers to weigh in on the pros and cons of the strong protection afforded to mediation privilege in California versus the less stringent protection available under the UMA and jurisdictions like New York.

Written by:

Merge Mediation Group
Contact
more
less

Merge Mediation Group on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

Related Case Law

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
- hide

JD Supra Privacy Policy

Updated: May 25, 2018:

JD Supra is a legal publishing service that connects experts and their content with broader audiences of professionals, journalists and associations.

This Privacy Policy describes how JD Supra, LLC ("JD Supra" or "we," "us," or "our") collects, uses and shares personal data collected from visitors to our website (located at www.jdsupra.com) (our "Website") who view only publicly-available content as well as subscribers to our services (such as our email digests or author tools)(our "Services"). By using our Website and registering for one of our Services, you are agreeing to the terms of this Privacy Policy.

Please note that if you subscribe to one of our Services, you can make choices about how we collect, use and share your information through our Privacy Center under the "My Account" dashboard (available if you are logged into your JD Supra account).

Collection of Information

Registration Information. When you register with JD Supra for our Website and Services, either as an author or as a subscriber, you will be asked to provide identifying information to create your JD Supra account ("Registration Data"), such as your:

  • Email
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Company Name
  • Company Industry
  • Title
  • Country

Other Information: We also collect other information you may voluntarily provide. This may include content you provide for publication. We may also receive your communications with others through our Website and Services (such as contacting an author through our Website) or communications directly with us (such as through email, feedback or other forms or social media). If you are a subscribed user, we will also collect your user preferences, such as the types of articles you would like to read.

Information from third parties (such as, from your employer or LinkedIn): We may also receive information about you from third party sources. For example, your employer may provide your information to us, such as in connection with an article submitted by your employer for publication. If you choose to use LinkedIn to subscribe to our Website and Services, we also collect information related to your LinkedIn account and profile.

Your interactions with our Website and Services: As is true of most websites, we gather certain information automatically. This information includes IP addresses, browser type, Internet service provider (ISP), referring/exit pages, operating system, date/time stamp and clickstream data. We use this information to analyze trends, to administer the Website and our Services, to improve the content and performance of our Website and Services, and to track users' movements around the site. We may also link this automatically-collected data to personal information, for example, to inform authors about who has read their articles. Some of this data is collected through information sent by your web browser. We also use cookies and other tracking technologies to collect this information. To learn more about cookies and other tracking technologies that JD Supra may use on our Website and Services please see our "Cookies Guide" page.

How do we use this information?

We use the information and data we collect principally in order to provide our Website and Services. More specifically, we may use your personal information to:

  • Operate our Website and Services and publish content;
  • Distribute content to you in accordance with your preferences as well as to provide other notifications to you (for example, updates about our policies and terms);
  • Measure readership and usage of the Website and Services;
  • Communicate with you regarding your questions and requests;
  • Authenticate users and to provide for the safety and security of our Website and Services;
  • Conduct research and similar activities to improve our Website and Services; and
  • Comply with our legal and regulatory responsibilities and to enforce our rights.

How is your information shared?

  • Content and other public information (such as an author profile) is shared on our Website and Services, including via email digests and social media feeds, and is accessible to the general public.
  • If you choose to use our Website and Services to communicate directly with a company or individual, such communication may be shared accordingly.
  • Readership information is provided to publishing law firms and authors of content to give them insight into their readership and to help them to improve their content.
  • Our Website may offer you the opportunity to share information through our Website, such as through Facebook's "Like" or Twitter's "Tweet" button. We offer this functionality to help generate interest in our Website and content and to permit you to recommend content to your contacts. You should be aware that sharing through such functionality may result in information being collected by the applicable social media network and possibly being made publicly available (for example, through a search engine). Any such information collection would be subject to such third party social media network's privacy policy.
  • Your information may also be shared to parties who support our business, such as professional advisors as well as web-hosting providers, analytics providers and other information technology providers.
  • Any court, governmental authority, law enforcement agency or other third party where we believe disclosure is necessary to comply with a legal or regulatory obligation, or otherwise to protect our rights, the rights of any third party or individuals' personal safety, or to detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security or safety issues.
  • To our affiliated entities and in connection with the sale, assignment or other transfer of our company or our business.

How We Protect Your Information

JD Supra takes reasonable and appropriate precautions to insure that user information is protected from loss, misuse and unauthorized access, disclosure, alteration and destruction. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. You should keep in mind that no Internet transmission is ever 100% secure or error-free. Where you use log-in credentials (usernames, passwords) on our Website, please remember that it is your responsibility to safeguard them. If you believe that your log-in credentials have been compromised, please contact us at privacy@jdsupra.com.

Children's Information

Our Website and Services are not directed at children under the age of 16 and we do not knowingly collect personal information from children under the age of 16 through our Website and/or Services. If you have reason to believe that a child under the age of 16 has provided personal information to us, please contact us, and we will endeavor to delete that information from our databases.

Links to Other Websites

Our Website and Services may contain links to other websites. The operators of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using our Website or Services and click a link to another site, you will leave our Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We are not responsible for the data collection and use practices of such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of our Website and Services and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Information for EU and Swiss Residents

JD Supra's principal place of business is in the United States. By subscribing to our website, you expressly consent to your information being processed in the United States.

  • Our Legal Basis for Processing: Generally, we rely on our legitimate interests in order to process your personal information. For example, we rely on this legal ground if we use your personal information to manage your Registration Data and administer our relationship with you; to deliver our Website and Services; understand and improve our Website and Services; report reader analytics to our authors; to personalize your experience on our Website and Services; and where necessary to protect or defend our or another's rights or property, or to detect, prevent, or otherwise address fraud, security, safety or privacy issues. Please see Article 6(1)(f) of the E.U. General Data Protection Regulation ("GDPR") In addition, there may be other situations where other grounds for processing may exist, such as where processing is a result of legal requirements (GDPR Article 6(1)(c)) or for reasons of public interest (GDPR Article 6(1)(e)). Please see the "Your Rights" section of this Privacy Policy immediately below for more information about how you may request that we limit or refrain from processing your personal information.
  • Your Rights
    • Right of Access/Portability: You can ask to review details about the information we hold about you and how that information has been used and disclosed. Note that we may request to verify your identification before fulfilling your request. You can also request that your personal information is provided to you in a commonly used electronic format so that you can share it with other organizations.
    • Right to Correct Information: You may ask that we make corrections to any information we hold, if you believe such correction to be necessary.
    • Right to Restrict Our Processing or Erasure of Information: You also have the right in certain circumstances to ask us to restrict processing of your personal information or to erase your personal information. Where you have consented to our use of your personal information, you can withdraw your consent at any time.

You can make a request to exercise any of these rights by emailing us at privacy@jdsupra.com or by writing to us at:

Privacy Officer
JD Supra, LLC
10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 300
Sausalito, California 94965

You can also manage your profile and subscriptions through our Privacy Center under the "My Account" dashboard.

We will make all practical efforts to respect your wishes. There may be times, however, where we are not able to fulfill your request, for example, if applicable law prohibits our compliance. Please note that JD Supra does not use "automatic decision making" or "profiling" as those terms are defined in the GDPR.

  • Timeframe for retaining your personal information: We will retain your personal information in a form that identifies you only for as long as it serves the purpose(s) for which it was initially collected as stated in this Privacy Policy, or subsequently authorized. We may continue processing your personal information for longer periods, but only for the time and to the extent such processing reasonably serves the purposes of archiving in the public interest, journalism, literature and art, scientific or historical research and statistical analysis, and subject to the protection of this Privacy Policy. For example, if you are an author, your personal information may continue to be published in connection with your article indefinitely. When we have no ongoing legitimate business need to process your personal information, we will either delete or anonymize it, or, if this is not possible (for example, because your personal information has been stored in backup archives), then we will securely store your personal information and isolate it from any further processing until deletion is possible.
  • Onward Transfer to Third Parties: As noted in the "How We Share Your Data" Section above, JD Supra may share your information with third parties. When JD Supra discloses your personal information to third parties, we have ensured that such third parties have either certified under the EU-U.S. or Swiss Privacy Shield Framework and will process all personal data received from EU member states/Switzerland in reliance on the applicable Privacy Shield Framework or that they have been subjected to strict contractual provisions in their contract with us to guarantee an adequate level of data protection for your data.

California Privacy Rights

Pursuant to Section 1798.83 of the California Civil Code, our customers who are California residents have the right to request certain information regarding our disclosure of personal information to third parties for their direct marketing purposes.

You can make a request for this information by emailing us at privacy@jdsupra.com or by writing to us at:

Privacy Officer
JD Supra, LLC
10 Liberty Ship Way, Suite 300
Sausalito, California 94965

Some browsers have incorporated a Do Not Track (DNT) feature. These features, when turned on, send a signal that you prefer that the website you are visiting not collect and use data regarding your online searching and browsing activities. As there is not yet a common understanding on how to interpret the DNT signal, we currently do not respond to DNT signals on our site.

Access/Correct/Update/Delete Personal Information

For non-EU/Swiss residents, if you would like to know what personal information we have about you, you can send an e-mail to privacy@jdsupra.com. We will be in contact with you (by mail or otherwise) to verify your identity and provide you the information you request. We will respond within 30 days to your request for access to your personal information. In some cases, we may not be able to remove your personal information, in which case we will let you know if we are unable to do so and why. If you would like to correct or update your personal information, you can manage your profile and subscriptions through our Privacy Center under the "My Account" dashboard. If you would like to delete your account or remove your information from our Website and Services, send an e-mail to privacy@jdsupra.com.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Privacy Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our Privacy Policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use our Website and Services following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this Privacy Policy, the practices of this site, your dealings with our Website or Services, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: privacy@jdsupra.com.

JD Supra Cookie Guide

As with many websites, JD Supra's website (located at www.jdsupra.com) (our "Website") and our services (such as our email article digests)(our "Services") use a standard technology called a "cookie" and other similar technologies (such as, pixels and web beacons), which are small data files that are transferred to your computer when you use our Website and Services. These technologies automatically identify your browser whenever you interact with our Website and Services.

How We Use Cookies and Other Tracking Technologies

We use cookies and other tracking technologies to:

  1. Improve the user experience on our Website and Services;
  2. Store the authorization token that users receive when they login to the private areas of our Website. This token is specific to a user's login session and requires a valid username and password to obtain. It is required to access the user's profile information, subscriptions, and analytics;
  3. Track anonymous site usage; and
  4. Permit connectivity with social media networks to permit content sharing.

There are different types of cookies and other technologies used our Website, notably:

  • "Session cookies" - These cookies only last as long as your online session, and disappear from your computer or device when you close your browser (like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Safari).
  • "Persistent cookies" - These cookies stay on your computer or device after your browser has been closed and last for a time specified in the cookie. We use persistent cookies when we need to know who you are for more than one browsing session. For example, we use them to remember your preferences for the next time you visit.
  • "Web Beacons/Pixels" - Some of our web pages and emails may also contain small electronic images known as web beacons, clear GIFs or single-pixel GIFs. These images are placed on a web page or email and typically work in conjunction with cookies to collect data. We use these images to identify our users and user behavior, such as counting the number of users who have visited a web page or acted upon one of our email digests.

JD Supra Cookies. We place our own cookies on your computer to track certain information about you while you are using our Website and Services. For example, we place a session cookie on your computer each time you visit our Website. We use these cookies to allow you to log-in to your subscriber account. In addition, through these cookies we are able to collect information about how you use the Website, including what browser you may be using, your IP address, and the URL address you came from upon visiting our Website and the URL you next visit (even if those URLs are not on our Website). We also utilize email web beacons to monitor whether our emails are being delivered and read. We also use these tools to help deliver reader analytics to our authors to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

Analytics/Performance Cookies. JD Supra also uses the following analytic tools to help us analyze the performance of our Website and Services as well as how visitors use our Website and Services:

  • HubSpot - For more information about HubSpot cookies, please visit legal.hubspot.com/privacy-policy.
  • New Relic - For more information on New Relic cookies, please visit www.newrelic.com/privacy.
  • Google Analytics - For more information on Google Analytics cookies, visit www.google.com/policies. To opt-out of being tracked by Google Analytics across all websites visit http://tools.google.com/dlpage/gaoptout. This will allow you to download and install a Google Analytics cookie-free web browser.

Facebook, Twitter and other Social Network Cookies. Our content pages allow you to share content appearing on our Website and Services to your social media accounts through the "Like," "Tweet," or similar buttons displayed on such pages. To accomplish this Service, we embed code that such third party social networks provide and that we do not control. These buttons know that you are logged in to your social network account and therefore such social networks could also know that you are viewing the JD Supra Website.

Controlling and Deleting Cookies

If you would like to change how a browser uses cookies, including blocking or deleting cookies from the JD Supra Website and Services you can do so by changing the settings in your web browser. To control cookies, most browsers allow you to either accept or reject all cookies, only accept certain types of cookies, or prompt you every time a site wishes to save a cookie. It's also easy to delete cookies that are already saved on your device by a browser.

The processes for controlling and deleting cookies vary depending on which browser you use. To find out how to do so with a particular browser, you can use your browser's "Help" function or alternatively, you can visit http://www.aboutcookies.org which explains, step-by-step, how to control and delete cookies in most browsers.

Updates to This Policy

We may update this cookie policy and our Privacy Policy from time-to-time, particularly as technology changes. You can always check this page for the latest version. We may also notify you of changes to our privacy policy by email.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about how we use cookies and other tracking technologies, please contact us at: privacy@jdsupra.com.

- hide

This website uses cookies to improve user experience, track anonymous site usage, store authorization tokens and permit sharing on social media networks. By continuing to browse this website you accept the use of cookies. Click here to read more about how we use cookies.