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How we resolve our disputes

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Thursday
Nov122009

Who was inappropriate -- the Queen or King?

A 22 year-old beauty queen scolds a veteran TV newsman for asking what she considers to be an “inappropriate” question. Not exactly a man-bites-dog story, but it raises an interesting legal question. Did Carrie Prejean have the right not to answer Larry King’s question about why she settled a lawsuit in mediation rather than going to court against the Miss California Organization? Apparently, she thought she was on the show to promote her new book. King did what any good reporter would do — ask a question that might get a response that would be interesting to his readers, listeners or viewers. However, Prejean responded that “it’s completely confidential.” While many mediators tell the parties to mediation that what they say during the settlement negotiations is confidential, that is not exactly correct in many states. I am not licensed in California, but here in Wisconsin the only legal protection is a rule of evidence that prohibits the admission in a judicial or administrative proceeding of communications relevant to a matter in mediation. The rule defines such evidence as irrelevant and, therefore, inadmissable. It does not create a “mediation privilege.” Even if the settlement agreement provided that the terms of the settlement were confidential, King clearly did not ask about the terms of the settlement. He asked why Prejean decided to settle. And, of course, Larry King was not a party to any confidentiality agreement. So was he being inappropriate? Or was Carrie Prejean practicing law without a license?