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Friday, January 20, 2023


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Arbitrator Had No Duty to Make Disclosure of Remote Relationship With Party—C.A.

Fee Dispute Was Arbitrated in Case Where Lawyer Had Been Panel Moderator at University Headed by Arbitrator


By a MetNews Staff Writer


Div. Eight of the Court of Appeal for this district has rejected a plaintiff’s contention that an arbitration award must be vacated because the arbitrator failed to disclose that he is president of the West Los Angeles University and that the defendant had moderated one of five panel discussions at a seminar held at the university’s law school.

 Justice John Shepard Wiley Jr.’s unpublished opinion, filed Wednesday, leaves intact the arbitration award of $75,224.40 in favor of Manhattan Beach family law attorney S. Roger Rombro of Rombro & Manley, LLP. Although it was Ali Karimi, a former client of Rombro, who brought the suit, the fee dispute was submitted to arbitration pursuant to a provision of the attorney-client agreement.

In confirming the award pursuant to Rombro’s motion and denying Karimi’s motion to vacate it, then-Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John P. Doyle on March 18, 2021 explained:

“Overall, the Court believes that Rombro’s one-time participation in a panel at a university in which the arbitrator is president not to be a substantial business relation which would cause an impression of bias in a reasonable person. Had there been repeated events, the Court might conclude otherwise.”

No Contact

Doyle quoted a declaration from Rombro saying that he “did not meet” the arbitrator, Robert W. Brown, “until after he was appointed as the arbitrator in this matter by the American Arbitration Association,” saying that this provided further support for the court’s finding.

Agreeing with Doyle, Wiley wrote:

“Karimi did not suggest Brown and Rombro had a relationship of acquaintance or friendship, either before or during the seminar or at any time before the arbitration. Before the arbitration, Rombro did not know of Brown. No evidence showed Brown knew of Rombro. Apart from the seminar, Karimi has not suggested the two men were anything but strangers.

“Nothing shows Brown or Rombro were involved in planning, producing, or managing the seminar. The Iranian American Lawyers’ Association put on the seminar in association with two other bar associations and the university. The seminar had 20 named sponsors. Apart from Brown’s status as president of the university, Karimi has not suggested Brown or Rombro belonged to the Iranian American Lawyers’ Association or to another planning or organizing entity.”

$24,000 Value

Karima argued in his opening brief on appeal, prepared by Santa Monica attorney Nicholas Barton:

“Rombro…did not dispute in the trial Court that he provided ‘well in excess of 40 hours’, or $24,000 of his otherwise billable time (at his $600 per hour billable rate). This directly, or at least indirectly, benefitted Arbitrator Brown’s ‘employer’s’ sponsorship and hosting of the long running, pre-eminent family law paid MCLE event in the State of California (a judicially noticeable fact.).

“Rombro conferred this significant and valuable benefit just one short month before he petitioned the trial court for an order to arbitrate his bitterly contested family law billing dispute with his former client Karimi. Rombro even proudly indicated on the MCLE sponsors website that he provided ‘well in excess of 40 hours.’ ”

“A couple of months later, ‘vuala’ [sic], Arbitrator Brown was appointed as Rombro’s AAA Arbitrator on the Karimi family law billing dispute matter. At this point, Rombro was ecstatic and legally batting a thousand. But Karimi must not find out about it!”

Brown, Karima asserted, was obliged by ethical standards applicable to arbitrators to disclose the business relationship.

No ‘Business Relationship’

Wiley rejected the reasoning, saying:

“This argument is incorrect. Karimi has not shown a business relationship. There is no evidence Rombro got money from Brown or Brown’s university. Rombro presumably consented to appear on this panel for the usual reasons lawyers participate in such affairs: some combination of public service, continuing education, marketing one’s practice, and generalized networking. There is no evidence Brown or Brown’s organization profited from Rombro’s panel participation. Members of the seminar audience paid to attend, but the record does not show where this money went. No evidence shows this university was in the seminar business. It was Karimi’s burden to show bias or an appearance of bias; we will not presume Brown or his entity sought to profit financially from this seminar.”

Disputing Karimi’s contention that Rombro conferred a $24,000 benefit on the university, Wiley pointed out:

“Karimi has not established Brown or his university derived any financial benefit from the ticket sales for this seminar.”

Karimi also maintained that Doyle erred in relying upon the fact that the seminar was a “one-time” event, commenting that Rombro’s “one time” appearance at the university entailed “substantial and valuable services.” Wiley responded:

“While the trial court properly considered as part of its analysis that Brown and Rombro did not have repeated contacts, the trial court also focused on how attenuated the alleged contact was and that Brown and Rombro did not meet at the seminar.”

The case is Karimi v. Rombro, B312606.


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