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Litigation isn’t an Olympic event, and six lawyer-arbitrators want to keep it that way. The six, who all live at least part of the time in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area, are on call to mediate disputes that might erupt among the U.S. teams at the Winter Olympics. As with athletes, speed is of the essence for the arbitrators, whose main task is to keep disputes out of the courts where they could take a long time to resolve. One of the six, James Kenny of the Miami law firm Kenny Nachtwalter, handled what has been the hottest potato so far at the winter games — a dispute involving the women’s bobsled team. Sparks started to fly in December when world champion bobsled driver Jean Racine replaced her long-time friend and brakewoman Jen Davidson before the Olympic trials. The dispute quickly made headlines all over the country, in part because the team had been considered a good possibility to win gold. Davidson asked for an arbitration hearing to try to get back on the team. Kenny started the hearing on Jan. 24, just four days before the deadline for all Olympic teams to be finalized. “It was a very difficult arbitration because of the emotions involved — they were both teammates and friends,” said Kenny. It was also his first Olympic arbitration case. The entire bobsled team — nine sledders, plus coaches, officials and trainers — gave 24 hours of testimony during the two-day session. Evidence on athletic performance was introduced, “making the case easier to understand,” Kenny said. Finally, Kenny ruled against Davidson, who withdrew her claim and agreed that the best decision had been made for the entire team. “I wasn’t there at the end of the session, but I heard that there were tears and Racine and Davidson hugged,” said Kenny. That’s the kind of conflict resolution that Brian Winn likes. Winn is district vice president in Atlanta for the American Arbitration Association (AAA), the nation’s largest mediation group, which appoints the arbitrators for U.S. Olympic teams. Provisions for arbitration of Olympics disputes date back to 1978, when the Olympic and Amateur Sports Act was passed by Congress, Winn said. But the real use of arbitrators by U.S. teams became common practice at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, and continued at the 1996 games in Atlanta, according to Winn. He added that the big-money sports, like tennis and figure skating, tend to have the most disputes, with the most common complaint of athletes being that they didn’t make a team. Arbitrators may also become involved in matters of professional misconduct by athletes, including dress codes, public drinking and drug use. Arbitration rulings are binding, Winn said, although disgruntled athletes can still go to court. The arbitrators are private attorneys and retired judges who are selected and serve for pay under the auspices of the AAA. They are required to have some experience in sports dispute resolution at either the professional or amateur levels, according to Winn. Diane Banks, a mediation specialist with Fabian & Clendenin in Salt Lake City, is excited to be on the mediation panel for the Utah games. In mid-January she was asked if she was available to handle a dispute at the Olympics — her first — but she couldn’t get away. “I was kind of disappointed,” said the ski enthusiast. “I love to mediate. But the AAA said we might not get any cases.” The other arbitrators on the Winter Olympics team, all from Salt Lake City, are Craig Coburn of Richards, Brandt, Miller & Nelson; Bruce Cohne and Larry Keller of Cohne, Rappaport & Segal; and James Holbrooke of Callister, Nebeker & McCullough.

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