ADR Theory? The Conflict Resolution Practice Behind the Rock-Paper-Scissors Story (Web)

The widely circulated story of the Florida federal court judge sending two attorneys to a game of rock-paper-scissors actually originated in a court-designated order for a “new form of alternative dispute resolution.”

Apparently exasperated by the participants’ actions in the case, Avista Management Inc. V. Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co., Case No. 6:05-cv-1430-Orl-31JGG, U.S. District Court Judge Gregory A. Presnell, of Orlando, Fla., sent the lawyers to “engage in one (1) game of ‘rock, paper, scissors.’”

The dispute to be decided: The location for a deposition next month. The story was picked up on wire services, in newspapers, and on blogs nationwide.

In his order, which is copied below, Presnell noted that the motion asking the court to choose the deposition site is “the latest in a series of Gordian knots that the parties have been unable to entangle without enlisting the assistance of the federal courts. . . .”

But rather than subjecting the federal court’s ADR program to the same problems his chamber faced, Presnell wrote, “Instead, the Court will fashion a new form of alterative dispute resolution,” ordering the attorneys to play the game. In an anticipated absence of agreement, Presnell sent them to a neutral site out of the area, the front steps at the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa.

In fact, rock paper scissors isn’t so new. The children’s game has been used to select someone, supposedly at random, for as long as children have played, with credit given to Japan as the originating nation. It has been studied by game theorists.

No one has termed it ADR before, but Internet collective encyclopedia Wikipedia notes that the game has settled a 2005 dispute between auction houses Christie’s and Sotheby’s. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rock,_Paper,_Scissors

In a synergistic bonanza for its promoters, tonight cable network A+E will air the first USA Rock Paper Scissors League Championship, which was held in Las Vegas in April. For more information on the league, see http://www.usarps.com/site/index.php.

Meantime, the attorneys in the case may have headed off the initial development stages of the new business conflict resolution option by taking it private. The New York Times Friday reported that one of the lawyers said that the Tampa courthouse game won’t happen, because the attorneys agreed to a June 30 meeting.

Still, the Times story indicates that, in accordance with the order, the game will be played–at the “undisclosed location.” If not, Presnell set an appeal hearing early next month.

The Times story is available at www.nytimes.com with registration.

–Russ Bleemer, Editor, Alternatives