Generally, we mediators like to consider mediation as a safe process, one where the parties can be candid with one another, where they can say what they think, where they can develop and explore options, where they can even apologize if necessary, all without fear that their statements will be used against them later in court. After all, if they know their statements might be admissible in court, who would say something like: “I’m sorry I took out your spleen rather than your liver. But seriously, once you are in there, all those organs begin to look the same. Especially after a few beers.”? And yet, an apology like this (o.k., maybe not quite exactly like this) may be just what is needed to help the parties begin to heal, and break a settlement impasse.
Hence, many of us in the mediation world (affectionately and respectfully known as Mediation Geeks, according to IP attorney Casondra Ruga) believe that mediation confidentiality is not just an aspiration, but an absolutely critical component to the effective use of mediation for conflict resolution. Not just settlement of litigated disputes, but true resolution of conflict.
Which is why it was so unusual for a party in Florida to find himself in jail based on what he had to say in a confidential mediation.
Of course, the fact that this party was the king of parties himself, Joe Francis, founder and auteur of the soft porn Girls Gone Wild video franchise, may have played a role in the whole affair.
I wrote an article last year (Mediation Gone Wild: How Three Minutes Put An ADR Party Behind Bars) chronicling the bizarre twists and turns that led Mr. Francis from the warm and fuzzy confines of a private and confidential mediation room to the slightly more austere federal penitentiary in northern Florida. And in the article, I questioned some of the decisions and rationale of the federal judge, Richard Smoak of the Northern District of Florida. (For an audio discussion of the case, click here.)
I thought that would be the end of things. An unusual amalgamation of events leading to an unusual result, leaving MG’s like me with something to talk about at those wild and crazy MG parties (where we keep our tops on, and don’t invite the cameras).
But it wasn’t.
I had forgotten that judges have blogs of their own. Only they don’t call them blogs. They prefer the terms “Order” and “Opinion.”
It seems that Judge Smoak obtained a copy of the article questioning the propriety of some of his decisions, and he used his own blog – I mean he issued an opinion in a different case (Pitts v. Francis) in which he sought to rebut some of the criticism. (In Pitts, Francis had sought to have the judge recuse himself for bias, an effort the judge rebuffed, leading to the new opinion.)
Was his rebuttal convincing? Has he better justified his decision to jail Mr. Francis for statements and conduct at a confidential mediation? I think you should decide for yourself.
Here you will find the original article in Alternatives chronicling and questioning the judge’s decision to jail Mr. Francis for his mediation conduct.
Here you will find Judge Smoak’s opinion in Pitts v. Francis in which the judge defends his decision to pierce mediation confidentiality and, ultimately, jail Mr. Francis. (See page 24 of the opinion.)
And here you will find an article in CPR’s Alternatives magazine summarizing the opinion and responding to the judge’s comments.
In the end, I would ask that you let us all here at the IP ADR blog know what you think. Was the judge right in what he did? Was he convincing? Or does it seem like he may have been trying just a little too hard to justify his actions and espouse his neutrality?
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