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Her Private Life: Nominee Sotomayor's 1980s Arbitration Practice Work (Web)

Sonia Sotomayor, the Bronx-born federal appeals court judge President Obama nominated Tuesday to replace retiring Associate Justice David H. Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court, was exposed to alternative dispute resolution early in her career.  

She detailed some of her arbitration work in questionnaires prepared for her Senate confirmation hearings for her slot on the New York federal district court in 1992, and then again in 1999 after President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

After a five-year trial lawyer stint in the New York District Attorney’s Office, Sotomayor entered into private practice in 1984 at a 35-lawyer firm, Pavia & Harcourt, in New York.  Sotomayor worked as a Pavia associate until January 1988, when she was promoted to partner.  She left the firm when she was appointed to the U.S. District Court in New York City by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.   

She worked in a general civil litigation practice that included intellectual property and copyright cases, but also included grain commodity trading arbitration under the North American Export Grain Association Contract.

Sotomayor wrote on her Senate questionnaire in 1992 that she had “conducted over fifteen arbitration hearings involving banking, fashion, grain, and tire distribution industries.” Her clients, she disclosed, typically were European companies doing business in the United States.

She began an anti-counterfeiting division for fashion powerhouse Fendi, of Rome, one of her clients.  The work allowed her to travel worldwide as she investigated and gathered evidence for her trademark-owning clients.  See a profile at the American Bar Association's website, here.

Here are details, originally provided by Sotomayor to the Senate, about her arbitration experience:

In Nidera Handelscompagnie, B.V. vs. Continental Grain, a North American Export Grain Association matter, Sotomayor represented claimant Nidera in an American Arbitration Association arbitration.  

Nidera sought indemnification for attorneys fees and costs associated with defending against an action in London.  Sotomayor won a partial award for Nidera in a matter for which Sotomayor was unable to locate the precise arbitration hearing dates, instead noting in her Senate document that the matter spanned more than three years in the late 1980s.

In Miserocchi & C., S.p.A. v. Alfred C. Toepfer International, G.m.b.H, a matter that arose shortly after Sotomayor joined Pavia & Harcourt, Sotomayor represented a claimant in arbitration.

This case involved Miserocchi & C., SpA, an international company based in Italy.  Miserocchi entered bankruptcy, and its London affiliate breached a grain commodity trading contract with Toepfer, Sotomayor’s client.

Toepfer demanded arbitration against both Miserocchi and the London affiliate, but Miserocchi moved to stay the arbitration in a New York federal court, claiming it was not a party to the arbitration agreement and that the affiliate was the appropriate party instead.  

Sotomayor told the Senate that she drafted a cross-motion to compel arbitration on Toepfer’s behalf, indicating that Miserocchi was obligated to arbitrate as both an alter ego of its London affiliate and as a guarantor.  The district court agreed and granted the motion to compel arbitration.

Miserocchi filed an appeal with the Second Circuit, and moved to stay the district court's order.   Sotomayor argued against the appeal for Toepfer.  The circuit court denied Miserocchi's motion to stay and dismissed the appeal.  

In the subsequent arbitration, Sotomayor served as co-counsel, and later appeared in the post-confirmation proceedings after her client was awarded monetary damages at the conclusion of the arbitral proceedings.

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Here are links to the New York Times’ posting of Sotomayor's judicial confirmation applications:

1992 Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire, regarding Sotomayor’s appointment by President George H.W. Bush to the U.S. District Court

1997 Senate Judiciary Committee Questionnaire, regarding appointment to the Second Circuit:

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In addition, the National Law Journal today profiled Sotomayor's work at Pavia & Harcourt.  You can read that article here.

–Russ Bleemer, Editor, Alternatives and Andrew Gange, CPR Intern