As a former litigator and now full-time ADR professional, I serve as a court-appointed special master from time to time. I have recently presided over a complex business dispute involving multiple parties that has been dragging on for years. The case has been hotly litigated and there have been motions to compel, for sanctions and to disqualify counsel. The hearings before me were often heated, with the parties regularly interrupting each other and using incendiary language. This conduct was not only rude, but disrupted the flow of the hearing and made it difficult for the court reporter to produce a clean record.
Casting about for a means to remedy this situation, I remembered a suggestion from one of my mentors and colleagues made during our local mediator breakfast group (something I highly recommend to reap the benefits of cross-pollination). He told us that from time to time he uses a talking stick as a tool to calm the waters in contentious mediations. While I did not believe I needed the stick for my mediation practice, it struck me that this might be just the device to employ in my contentious special master matter, albeit with a twist.
At my next hearing, I deployed a Native American Talking Stick (“NATS”).