On Friday, I spent an entire day in the lavish offices of ADR Services, in Century City, mediating a mold lawsuit with my attorney, Tom Buckley, and my insurance adjuster, Bob Christian. Perhaps we are all stars in a cosmic drama, I thought as we strolled down the Avenue of the Stars at lunch time. And if we are, I mused, I hope that this little drama will turn out to be a morality play in which I will be found innocent and go home to my wife smiling instead of whining about injustice and the legal system. We slipped into a restaurant and found ourselves within a few inches of a famous movie star, Jon Voigt. But what I really want to tell you about is mediation, incase you’re ever unfortunate enough to become one of the legal profession’s hapless victims.
It’s a unique experience, which if you haven’t bargained for a new or used car is also comparable to a scene in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.” The Christ figure, Brian, asks a merchant the cost of a gourd, and when told twenty dinars replies: “alright, I’ll take it.” At this point the merchant appears indignant, and says: “No, no, no, it’s not done like that. You have to barter.” “Oh, alright,” Brian says, “I’ll give you fifteen.” “No, no, no, not like that,” the merchant fumes. “You’ve got to start low.” “Oh, alright,” Brian stammers, in a hurry, “I’ll give you five.” “Five dinars!” the merchant chokes, “you must be out of your mind! It’s worth at least forty and so on. Mediation is a lot like that, and has absolutely nothing to do with truth and justice. Please, believe me.
There was a lot I could have said, but had been given wise counsel by my attorney, Tom, not to say a word. “We can pay to make it go away today,” he explained, or we can pay all of these very expensive attorneys and expert witness considerably more, and then risk going to trial, possibly found innocent by a jury of your peers, or maybe fall victim to prejudice, ignorance, or just plain caprice. So I sat patiently while my attorney almost imperceptibly took charge of the group, in ways too subtle to describe. Bob, the adjuster, seemed to be merely listening disinterestedly but he too was absorbing everything, for his infrequent questions convinced me that he was at least several moves ahead of the game.
Not all mediations are conducted in the same way, so I won’t bore you with the details, but we started at nine in the morning with demands that exceeded three-hundred thousand dollars, and what looked like a war between Jews and Muslims with me in the middle, and I mean that literally. I really didn’t think the case had any chance of being mediated, because the sellers and their agent are Jewish and the buyer is a Muslim, and there was apparently so much hatred between them that threats had been made and they wouldn’t even appear in the same room. Anyway, by six in the evening, the case settling for well under one-hundred thousand that was divided unequally among the defendants, myself included. Was justice served? No, well maybe. The tacit threat to my personal assets was gone, thank the Lord, and I got to go home, a reasonably free man. It was too late to have dinner with my wife, so I made myself bacon and eggs, and a nice cup of tea, and went to sleep, smiling.