Sunday, June 24, 2007
California Court of Appeals Affirms Mediation Confidentiality
The Court of Appeals (Second Circuit) issued it's opinion on the Wimsatt v. Kausch writ of mandate and upheld the mediation confidentiality statutes under California Evidence Code Sec. 1119. This was a proud moment for me, because I supported an amicus curiae brief (as President of the Southern California Mediation Association) and was present for the oral argument. In brief, the Plaintiff's were alleging that their own lawyer had committed malpractice by telling the defense counsel in an underlying airplane crash case that the case that he told his own clients was worth $3.5 million had a value closer to $1.5 million. The case was settled at a second mediation for about $1 million. Now, the Plaintiff's wanted to compel the production of the defense counsel's mediation brief and some e-mail communications between the two lawyers that took place the day before the second session of the mediation. The trial court denied the motion for protective order, out of concern that the protection requested might very well shield the plaintiff's former lawyer from claims for perjury as well as breach of fiduciary duty. The Court of Appeal disagreed. They really understood that the policy favoring settlement through frank conversation in a mediation trumped the possible abuses offered to counsel where evidence was prepared for, or in the course of a mediation. The Court did note that this may be unwise or impracticable, leaving the door open for the Supreme Court to act more critically in the case now before them in Simmons v. Ghaderi. Tough decisions, but certainly nice to read in black and white that the Court of Appeals honors the legislative scheme, even against their most solid judgment, to foster mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism that is meaningful and appreciated.