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New California Law Mandates Written Disclosure of Mediation Confidentiality
posted: September 17, 2018
Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 954 earlier this month; it will take effect on January 1, 2019.
The bill adds Section 1129 to the California Evidence Code and amends Section 1122. The new law will require attorneys to inform their clients in writing of all confidentiality restrictions related to mediation and to obtain signatures indicating that the clients understand these restrictions.
From the Legislative Counsel's Digest:
"Under existing law, if a person consults a mediator or consulting service for the purpose of retaining mediation services, or if persons agree to conduct and participate in a mediation for the purpose of compromising, settling, or resolving a civil dispute, anything said in the course of a mediation consultation or in the course of the mediation is not admissible in evidence nor subject to discovery, and all communications, negotiations, and settlement discussions by and between participants or mediators are confidential, except as specified."
"This bill would, except in the case of a class or representative action, require an attorney representing a person participating in a mediation or a mediation consultation to provide his or her client, as soon as reasonably possible before the client agrees to participate in the mediation or mediation consultation, with a printed disclosure, as specified, containing the confidentiality restrictions related to mediation, and to obtain a printed acknowledgment signed by that client stating that he or she has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. If an attorney is retained after an individual agrees to participate in a mediation or mediation consultation, the bill would require the attorney to comply with the printed disclosure and acknowledgment requirements as soon as reasonably possible after being retained. The bill would specify language that would be deemed compliant with the aforementioned printed disclosure and acknowledgment requirements. The bill would also provide that the failure of an attorney to comply with these disclosure requirements does not invalidate an agreement prepared in the course of, or pursuant to, a mediation. The bill would further provide that a communication, document, or writing related to an attorney's compliance with the disclosure requirements is not confidential and may be used in an attorney disciplinary proceeding if the communication, document, or writing does not disclose anything said or done or any admission made in the course of the mediation."
The new Section 1129 of the Evidence Code includes a sample disclosure form that meets the stated requirements:
Mediation Disclosure Notification and Acknowledgment
To promote communication in mediation, California law generally makes mediation a confidential process. California's mediation confidentiality laws are laid out in Sections 703.5 and 1115 to 1129, inclusive, of the Evidence Code. Those laws establish the confidentiality of mediation and limit the disclosure, admissibility, and a court's consideration of communications, writings, and conduct in connection with a mediation. In general, those laws mean the following:
- All communications, negotiations, or settlement offers in the course of a mediation must remain confidential.
- Statements made and writings prepared in connection with a mediation are not admissible or subject to discovery or compelled disclosure in noncriminal proceedings.
- A mediator's report, opinion, recommendation, or finding about what occurred in a mediation may not be submitted to or considered by a court or another adjudicative body.
- A mediator cannot testify in any subsequent civil proceeding about any communication or conduct occurring at, or in connection with, a mediation.
This means that all communications between you and your attorney made in preparation for a mediation, or during a mediation, are confidential and cannot be disclosed or used (except in extremely limited circumstances), even if you later decide to sue your attorney for malpractice because of something that happens during the mediation.
I, [Name of Client], understand that, unless all participants agree otherwise, no oral or written communication made during a mediation, or in preparation for a mediation, including communications between me and my attorney, can be used as evidence in any subsequent noncriminal legal action including an action against my attorney for malpractice or an ethical violation.
NOTE: This disclosure and signed acknowledgment does not limit your attorney's potential liability to you for professional malpractice, or prevent you from (1) reporting any professional misconduct by your attorney to the State Bar of California or (2) cooperating with any disciplinary investigation or criminal prosecution of your attorney.
Date signed: [Name of Client]
Date signed: [Name of Attorney]
The disclosure must be provided to clients in a meaningful and timely fashion to enable clients to decide whether or not to proceed with mediation. The disclosure must be in the client's preferred language and on a separate, single page.
The full text of SB 954 can be found here.