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AFFILIATION: National Arbitration Forum BORN: May 4, 1937 LAW SCHOOL: San Francisco Law School, 1965 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None As a construction litigator with more than 40 years of experience, it made sense for Ronald Kahn to become a neutral. He just never expected his arbitration career to focus on something wholly separate from his area of expertise: consumer credit card disputes, of which he sees about 200 cases each year. From 1972 to 1997 Khan was a member of the American Arbitration Association’s panel, and served on AAA’s Northern California construction advisory board. That work, Kahn said, was a natural progression from the litigation he’d been doing for years. As a partner at the San Francisco firm Sullivan, Roche & Johnson in the 1970s, and later at his own firm, Browne & Kahn, he’d become intimately knowledgeable about construction law, especially in disputes involving contractors. And more recently � through the solo practice he operates out of the Embarcadero Center, and as of counsel to Fresno’s Kimble, MacMichael & Upton � he’s continued to handle such matters. The majority of construction cases wind up in arbitration. “He’s very knowledgeable,” said Jonathan Sweet, a San Jose construction litigator who got to know Kahn through the Association of General Contractors’ litigation panel. With construction disputes often putting whole building projects in jeopardy, Sweet said, those arbitrations require someone who’s able to resolve a dispute in short order. “I think he seems pretty reasonable and rational.” Roger Hughes, a construction litigator at Bell, Rosenberg & Hughes in Oakland, agreed. He’s co-counseled with Kahn, opposed him, and used him as a mediator. Hughes said that in the late 1970s and early ’80s, when he was still a relative novice in construction litigation, Kahn was a deep well of knowledge. “Whenever I had a question, he was one of the first persons that I’d call,” Hughes said. As a mediator, he said, Kahn was efficient and fair. “We settled a case, I thought, very responsibly.” But that was about 10 years ago. Around that time, Kahn said recently, he began to feel that there was a conflict between his litigation practice and his role in settling disputes. “You get to a point in your career when you have to make a choice,” he said, adding that, if you’re a practicing litigator, “people are somewhat hesitant to choose you to be their independent dispute resolver.” Kahn said he also disliked AAA’s requirement that even experienced litigators attend continuing education courses. So he left the panel and refocused his construction-related work on advising clients. He didn’t entirely abandon neutral work, though: After leaving AAA, Kahn accepted an invitation to join the National Arbitration Forum’s California panel. For that, he now deals with hundreds of cases a year, the vast majority of which are consumer disputes with credit card companies. “It’s commercial stuff, and a lot of it is default hearings, making sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed to make sure there can be a decision, and there’s due process,” he said. The cases come about through consumer credit card agreements, in which the NAF is written in as the designated arbiter of any disputes between company and customer. In the default hearings, Kahn said, the companies are generally trying to collect on unpaid bills from consumers who’ve stopped responding to mail. “Typically, the parties do not respond,” he said. As a result, Kahn’s job generally entails reviewing the documents to make sure they indicate that consumers received proper notice of the case. “If they do, I’ll render an award,” he said � one that the card company can then attempt to collect. That’s what happens in the majority of cases, he said. That explanation is supported by statistics available on a Web site created by an Orange County man who is critical of NAF. The site, which compiles data published by NAF to comply with California’s disclosure laws, shows that of the 806 cases that Kahn decided for NAF between 2003 and 2007, 14 came down in favor of the consumer; in the rest, a company won. In nearly half the cases, the company was MBNA (now owned by Bank of America); other card companies rounded out the group. That ratio is unsurprising, Kahn said, since the vast majority of consumers not only fail to hire counsel, but never even respond to the company’s bills or arbitration notification letters in the first place. “Because they’re defaults, the power of the arbitrator is such that you have no choice as long as the parties have been informed,” he said. “There’s no one there to argue due process.” Most cases, “probably 95 percent,” take only a couple of minutes to decide, Kahn said. “Only the ones that create problems occupy my time,” he added. Due process issues are the most common glitch to encounter, he said, recalling a case in which he ruled in favor of a consumer because the person was out of state � and therefore not subject to California law. “Somebody might say, ‘Jeez, you’ve decided all these in favor of the credit card companies; you’re biased,’” he said. “That’s not at all the case.” For a complete list of available profiles, go to http://www.law.com/jsp/ca/judicialprofiles.jsp

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