Remember when we used to lament the fact that there were no mediation tv shows? Well we had Fairly Legal which was farcically formulaic and often a bit silly. Now we have Untying the Knot, a new reality series on the Bravo network. The show follows New Jersey divorce attorney-mediator Vikki Ziegler as she “mediates” property division issues for divorcing couples. The reason for the quotes? Here’s why – from the show’s website summarizing the series:
When couples go from “I do” to “I don’t,” Vikki Ziegler is who they call to mediate, advise and divide their assets out of court. Each 30-minute episode features a different divorcing couple struggling to divvy up their belongings that range from dazzling diamonds to the family pets. Expert appraisers Michael and Mark Millea evaluate the items in question and help Vikki determine a fair division of assets. Why let a judge decide your fate when this “Divorce Diva” can cut through all the drama to determine who will get what?
Obviously having the mediator “determine a fair division of assets” doesn’t sound like mediation; Ms. Ziegler is engaging in early neutral evaluation (ENE). But ENE has gone the way of Betamax and is so confused with mediation that it’s not worth the time to fight it. In fact, I’ve seen and heard of many well respected mediators engage in such behavior. So, let’s hope that this practice does not become what the public expects from divorce mediation, as this clearly limits the good that mediation can do in divorce. Nevertheless, clips of the show are going to be great for class this fall when we discuss facilitative and evaluative mediation styles.
I’ve watched all of the episodes that have aired to date (thank you DVR), and the show’s formula is simple – meet the divorcing couple and the property in dispute, the appraisers give their valuations of the items to Ms. Ziegler, and then Ms. Ziegler meets with the disputants and awards (yes, that’s the term she uses) the property and any corresponding financial offsets to the disputants. I find the show to be interesting mostly because the emotion of divorce is on display – you can really feel for some of the couples. Other interesting aspects include when Ms. Ziegler pushes a disputant and when disputants negotiate off of her evaluation. I could do without some of the witty-made-for-tv banter about the parties and/or their possessions from Ms. Ziegler and the appraisers, but I’m sure the producers love that kind of snarkiness.
Enjoy or cringe watching the show, but do use it in class – it’s going to be a great teaching tool.
The Federal Circuit recently handed down its decision in the CEATS v. Continental case. If I were teaching Mediation this year, I’d spend some real time on it.
Quick summary (oversimplifying for purposes of clarity here): Mediator appointed to patent case. Case didn’t wind up settling, and it proceeded to trial. After jury verdict, losing party discovered that the mediator had a prior relationship with the prevailing party. Losing party seeks FRCP 60(b) relief. Court says, “Yes, mediator should have disclosed the relationship, but no, relief from judgment is not available.”
Lots in there worthy of time and consideration. How did the court come to cite and apply things like the Model Standards of Conduct to this mediator? What, if any, consequences could there be for failure to disclose? (Private liability, as I’ve written previously, here, unlikely to be successful.) If the presence of a subsequent jury trial stands as evidence of a cure of any alleged prior mediator misconduct, what incentives does that create within mediation? Does the conflict rule applied to judges and arbitrators make sense for mediators? Etc.
For those interested in the field of securities dispute resolution, check out this new blog, just launched by Securities Arbitration Commentator (http://www.sacarbitration.com/blog/). Here is its opening announcement:
The Securities Arbitration Commentator (“SAC”) is just delighted to welcome you to our new blog, through which we will keep followers informed of key developments in the securities dispute resolution field. Typical blog posts will cover state and federal court cases of importance to our followers, regulatory and rulemaking updates, and the latest news from the securities and alternative dispute resolution worlds. This week, we lead with an analysis of an important United States Supreme Court ruling impacting the financial industry.
I am sure that many followers of this blog are aware that Raymond Ku, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s Law School was suing its former Dean, Lawrence Mitchell, as well as the school. The case, Ku v. Lawrence E. Mitchell, et al., Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV 13 815935, is apparently settled. The parties issued a joint statement in which the mediator offers his opinion about the parties’ efforts during the mediation: http://www.chandralaw.com/The_Chandra_Law_Firm,_LLC/Blog_and_news/Entries/2014/7/8_Breaking__Joint_Statement_of_Professor_Raymond_Ku_and_Case_Western_Reserve_University_regarding_resolution_of_Ku_v._Mitchell%2C_et_al.retaliation_case.html. In this statement, the mediator, Michael Ungar, said, “In my opinion, Professor Ku acted in the best interests of students, staff, and faculty. . . .Likewise, in my opinion, the University has also acted in the best interests of the law school and all members of the school community. The devotion of both to students, staff, and faculty is unquestioned.” Ungar went on to add, “This has been a hard case, but everyone involved focused on finding a solution that would further the success and momentum of the law school. While the university and Professor Ku had significant differences regarding this matter, their sincere desire to act in the school’s best interests prevailed. I commend them all for their diligence, integrity, and willingness to look beyond individual disagreements and embrace collaboration toward a common goal. As is typical in these types of situations, the details of the resolution are confidential.”
Although the UMA, which is the law in Ohio, does not preclude the mediator from commenting to the press if the parties and the mediator agree to it, it seems odd for the mediator to express an opinion based on his evaluation of the parties’ actions and statements during mediation. Most mediators make a concerted effort not to engage in such evaluation during the mediation process.