Monday, December 18, 2006
Justices Rule Arbitrator Need Not Disclose Unrelated, Pro-Bono Mediation Involving Same Attorney
By a MetNews Staff Writer
An arbitrator has no duty to disclose he was an unpaid mediator in a previous, unrelated case in which a party was represented by the same attorney representing a party in the arbitration, this district’s Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Div. Five affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joanne B. O’Donnell’s entry of judgment on an arbitration award in favor of plaintiff Gary Guseinov and against defendant Stan Burns.
Guseinov sued Burns for breach of a settlement agreement arising out of a failed business relationship. They submitted the dispute to arbitration.
After arbitrator Charles Pereyra-Suarez awarded Guseinov more than $5 million in damages, the parties filed cross-petitions to vacate and confirm the award in the trial court.
Burns’ motion to vacate the award was based on allegations that Pereyra-Suarez failed to disclose that he had acted as an unpaid mediator in an unrelated case in which one of the parties was represented by Martin Kaufman of Lee & Kaufman in Los Angeles, who represented Guseinov at the arbitration.
O’Donnell granted Guseinov’s petition to confirm, and denied Burns’ petition to vacate, the arbitration award, concluding that disclosure of the mediation was not required.
Burns appealed, relying on a rule requiring disclosure where a reasonable person might have a doubt regarding the arbitrator’s ability to be impartial.
But Div. Five Presiding Justice Paul Turner, writing for the Court of Appeal, found the rule inapplicable, saying:
“There are no facts that would cause a reasonable person to entertain a doubt whether the arbitrator was impartial.”
“The arbitrator had no independent recollection of the mediation which was part of a superior court program. The mediation had taken place one year before the present arbitration.”
The justice continued:
“The prior contact between the arbitrator and Mr. Kaufman was limited to this one instance. There was no ongoing relationship between the arbitrator and Mr. Kaufman of any kind.”
Turner also found that “acting as an uncompensated mediator in a single matter does not constitute a ‘professional relationship,’” which would have required disclosure.
Carol Boyd of Michelman & Robinson in Encino, who represented Guseinov on appeal, told the MetNews:
“Mr. Guseinov has waited a long time to receive what he’s owed, and I’m very happy and hope this will be an end to his search for justice.”
Robert M. Dato of Stephan, Oringher, Richman, Theodora & Miller in Costa Mesa. who represented Burns, could not be reached for comment.
Justices Orville A. Armstrong and Richard M. Mosk concurred in the opinion.
The case is Guseinov v. Burns, 06 SOS 6056.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company