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Bay Ridge Lawyers Association gets tips on mediation and arbitration at CLE meeting

February 23, 2017 By Rob Abruzzese, Legal Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: John Bonina, Hon. Elizabeth Bonina and Andrea Bonina. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Bay Ridge Lawyers Association (BRLA) hosted a continuing legal education (CLE) seminar where Hon. Elizabeth Bonina gave practical tips on alternative dispute resolution at The Pearl Room in Bay Ridge on Wednesday night.

“She grew up almost around the corner on 83rd and 3rd Avenue,” said her brother and former law partner John Bonina. “Beth is a product of Villanova University and Brooklyn Law School. She was the chief administrative law judge for the taxi and limousine commission, she was on the Supreme Court here in Kings County in 2002, after which she joined National Arbitration and Mediation (NAM).

“At NAM, she has been named in the top 10 mediators and arbitrators every year for the past seven years running,” John continued. “She gives frequent lectures on the topic and we’re lucky that she takes the time to come back here and speak to us.”

For an hour, Bonina lectured on what she does as a an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) specialist and gave tips on how attorneys should prepare for mediations and arbitrations.

“As an ADR professional, I like to think of myself as a professional peacemaker,” Bonina said. “We’re here to resolve people’s disputes and get cases settled. It can be any kind of cases from personal injury, contract disputes, professional liability, employment, medical malpractice, construction, maritime cases. NAM actually has contracts with one of the major cruise lines, so if there is a dispute, they come to us. It’s all different kinds of cases.”

The judge then went on to explain that there are certain situations where mediation or arbitration are necessary.

“When liability is clear but the parties have a dispute over the amount of damages,” she said. “Or when damages have been agreed upon but the parties can’t agree on a liability split. Or if they want to avoid costly litigation on the eve of trial, or when a summary motion is pending.”

The difference between mediation and arbitration is in arbitration, the arbitrator hears evidence and makes a decision almost as if the two sides were in court. Meditators don’t issue orders or make decisions. Instead, they help parties to reach a settlement.

Bonina suggested that attorneys should prepare themselves and their clients as if they were preparing for a trial, but suggested that there are major differences.

“My biggest tip when it comes to arbitration — if it’s a case where you need a doctor under normal circumstances to testify if you were in court —  [is] you don’t need that doctor in arbitration,” Bonina said. “There is no need for it. The rules of evidence don’t apply the same way as they do in court. All of the doctor’s notes, all of their narrative reports, all come in automatically. They don’t even have to be moved in. They’re sent to me and I’ve read them beforehand.”

She also explained that mediation confidential and mediators can’t be called into testify about a trial. Mediation agreements are also enforceable as contracts, and Bonina explained that only once has she had a party fight an agreement. The court eventually held it up as contract.

“Arbitration and mediation are alternatives to trials — they are cost effective,” Bonina said. “They save you time, they save you money. You can get your results in a much shorter time than if you wait for a trial at the Supreme Court.”


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