Association Offers Program to Increase Use of Arbitration

Article excerpt

By Ronda Fears

Journal Record Staff Reporter

Because lawsuits are getting more complicated and amounts of money involved are rising, the American Arbitration Association has designed a new program to help resolve such disputes without going to court.

The "Large, Complex Case Program" was unveiled three weeks ago in New York, where the not-for-profit organization is based.

"What they have found is that the cases are getting larger, the cases and the amount of money," said Oklahoma City attorney Leslie L. Conner Jr., who is among five attorneys in the state on the Oklahoma regional panel of arbitrators.

A special panel of arbitrators was selected among the association's best in each region for the new program in order to demonstrate its potential to the business community, Conner said. Oklahoma is within the organization's Dallas office.

"Alternative dispute resolution (which includes arbitration) came about because of business," Conner said. "It's quicker and much less expensive than the courts.

"But businessmen want the terms of resolving their disputes to be determined by experts in the area of business, people with subject matter knowledge."

That is because, unlike mediation, arbitration involves submitting a dispute to a third party for a decision. It can be binding or non-binding for the parties. In contrast, mediation only involves intervention by a neutral third party to facilitate settlement of the dispute between the parties.

For American Arbitration Association's new program, each panelist is required to have at least 15 years of experience in arbitration, said Conner, who began training for arbitration work in the 1970s. Other Oklahoma panelists are Oklahoma City attorneys Peter B. Bradford and Jerry Tubb, Tulsa attorney L.K. Smith and retired District Judge Joseph W. Morris of Tulsa.

Although arbitration is not a new phenomenon in private disputes _ the association was founded 67 years ago _ it and other alternative dispute resolution methods are relatively new in the court system.

For several years a party to a lawsuit has been able to request the court to compel an adversary to arbitration under the Uniform Arbitration Act. But judges, or the court, did not order parties to submit to some sort of alternative dispute resolution method until about seven years ago.

That has only occurred locally on the federal level and in Oklahoma and Canadian counties thus far, but a statewide rule to that effect is under formulation.

An arbitration rule was adopted in the federal court system in late 1985. …