For every publicly visible and contentious Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial, there are dozens more that never see the light of day.
More often than not, a showbiz lawsuit that begins with plaintiff and defendant slinging accusations back and forth in the headlines ends quietly with a below-the-fold story announcing that a confidential settlement has been reached. Yet, for those players who haven’t been through the process, what goes on behind the scenes remains something of mystery.
Such settlements are often achieved through third-party mediation, which, unlike arbitration, never mandates a binding decision. According to a survey of judges and attorneys published by the American Bar Assn. in December, 2020, mediation is the fairest way to resolve civil cases, followed by jury trials, bench trials and, lastly, arbitration. It’s also increasingly common.
The mediation process “is like shuttle diplomacy,” says Cheryl Snow, a partner at Gang, Tyre, Ramer, Brown & Passman. “They go from party to party and say, ‘well, maybe if you give a little bit here,’ and kind of coax the parties into an agreement.”
The leading player in these real-life dramas – and, ironically, the least well-known – is the person serving as the mediator, commonly referred to as a “neutral.” Although the Los Angeles Superior Court offers free mediation services for individuals and businesses, the high-stakes disputes that make the news are virtually all handled by private mediators supplied by organizations such as Signature Resolution, JAMS, Alternative Resolution Centers, Barron’s ADR Services and Judicate West.
Traditionally, the mediator role has been filled by retired judges and attorneys, but that is changing.
“Younger people have jumped into this industry, but you still need some gray hair to do this job,” says Dario Higuchi (below, right), founding partner and managing member of Signature Resolution. “It’s difficult for someone that’s not very experienced, who hasn’t lived through hundreds of cases, to be able to be convincing to a client and a lawyer.”
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