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Orchestrating Bias: Arbitrator’s Undisclosed Membership in Philharmonic Group with Pauly Shore’s Attorney Not Grounds to Reverse Award in Real Estate Dispute

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Former Senior Attorney
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By:  Lyndsey Torp

The California court of appeal recently issued an unpublished decision in Knispel v. Shore, 2017 WL 2492535, affirming a judgment confirming an arbitration award in a real estate dispute involving Pauly Shore.  The court of appeal held that the arbitrator’s failure to disclose her membership in the Los Angeles Lawyers Philharmonic Group with the attorney representing Pauly was not grounds to overturn the judgment.

The underlying arbitration involved a dispute between Michael Scott Shore, on the one hand, and his brother, Pauly, among others, on the other hand, regarding certain residential property located on Sunset Boulevard near The Comedy Store in West Hollywood (owned and operated by their mother, Mitzi Shore). The parties agreed to arbitrate their dispute before Judge Aviva K. Bobb (Ret.) of the Alternative Resolution Center.  Judge Bobb issued an award in favor of Pauly, and he petitioned the trial court to affirm the award.  Michael opposed, contending the arbitrator failed to disclose that she and Pauly’s attorney had both been members of the Lawyers Philharmonic, for which they had been practicing and performing together since November 2010.

Pauly’s attorney and Judge Bobb submitted responsive declarations stating that Pauly’s attorney played the trombone, and Judge Bobb played the violin, and “string” players had little contact with “brass” players in the 150- to 175-member group. Their only interaction was an exchange of basic pleasantries if they ran into each other.  The trial court granted the petition to confirm the arbitration award, finding there was an absence of any personal relationship between Judge Bobb and Pauly’s attorney that required disclosure.

The court of appeal agreed.  An arbitrator’s failure to disclose facts as required by California Code of Civil Procedure section 1281.9 warrants vacation of his or her award.  One such fact requiring disclosure is “[a]ny professional or significant personal relationship the proposed neutral arbitrator or his or her spouse or minor child living in the household has or has had with any party to the arbitration proceeding or lawyer for a party.”  But disclosure was not required here.  In support of its decision, the court cited Nemecek & Cole v. Horn (2012) 208 Cal. App. 4th 641, wherein an arbitrator was not required to disclose participation on the executive committee of the appellate courts section of the Los Angeles County Bar Association with a witness in the case.  In Nemecek, there was no indication of any personal or professional relationship between the arbitrator and the witness in the 186-member group.  Similarly here, Judge Bobb and Pauly’s attorney’s membership was “too slight and attenuated” to require disclosure.  An occasional exchange of pleasantries was a limited interaction that did not create a personal relationship requiring disclosure.  Michael also waived his right to challenge Judge Bobb’s disclosures as untimely, because he forfeited the issue by proceeding with arbitration without objection.