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A San Francisco plaintiffs’ attorney group is calling for a boycott of the American Arbitration Association, one of the country’s largest providers of dispute resolution services. The San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association announced Monday that it has enacted a new policy asking its members to stop using AAA arbitrators and mediators for their cases. The boycott is in response to statements made by AAA President William Slate II in a newspaper editorial and a letter to the editor, and could spread to other consumer attorney groups in California. “AAA’s bias is clear,” reads part of the SFTLA’s new three-page policy. “It seeks to operate without governmental oversight and consumer protection. AAA seeks to administer justice, yet escape accountability. It seeks to advance its own interests over those who would be affected by its behavior. “We will act as we are ethically obligated to do, when confronted with bias so great as AAA’s, and fulfill our obligation to reject your organization as a provider of justice.” AAA’s representative could not be reached for comment. The unusual move comes a week after California Gov. Gray Davis signed a raft of new laws regulating dispute resolution providers like the AAA that are involved in consumer arbitration. The AAA was formally opposed to one of the bills that passed and has said it is reviewing whether to continue offering mandatory consumer arbitrations in California. But a boycott could hit the AAA in other areas of its business. The SFTLA’s boycott calls for lawyers to stop using the AAA for arbitrations and mediations of all types. In instances where an AAA neutral is specified in a contract, plaintiffs’ lawyers will make motions to disqualify the AAA neutral, says the boycott policy. The boycott could affect hundreds, if not thousands, of potential AAA cases. According to SFTLA Executive Director Juliette Bleecker, the group’s 500 members each handle five to 10 cases a year, with only one of those cases typically going to trial. While SFTLA’s 32 board members are bound by the boycott, its regular members are not. But Bleecker expects widespread adherence based on reaction by members to AAA’s actions. And other trial lawyer groups could join in. The Consumer Attorneys of California, a 3,000-member statewide organization of plaintiffs’ lawyers, is scheduled to vote on adopting the boycott at its next meeting in November. “I would suspect that we’ll probably take the same position,” said CAOC President Robert Cartwright Jr. “I certainly don’t think anyone from the plaintiffs bar would like either [Slate] or anyone from his firm, based on his attitude, to be sitting in judgment on their case.” AAA’s Slate wrote the controversial pieces earlier this year, urging Gov. Davis to veto the arbitration bills on his desk. In an August Op-Ed piece in the Los Angeles Times, Slate wrote that “under the guise of ‘consumer advocacy,’ a small group of trial lawyers is waging a well-financed legislative campaign that would make it much harder for some people to get access to justice in California.” In a September letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, Slate said the proposed legislation “will benefit only one special interest: a small group of trial lawyers.” “If trial lawyers need financial support,” the letter went on, “they should seek it in ways that don’t deny Californians the proven benefits of arbitration.” The SFTLA’s Bleecker said the statements surprised her and angered many of the organization’s members. “It was strange to us that they would sort of go out there saying that they were against us, considering that trial lawyers are 50 percent of the equation,” said Bleecker. “To say that we felt a little betrayed is putting it lightly.”

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