Mediation Tragedy

Reports of violence associated with mediations are rare, but they do happen.  One occurred this week in Goldsboro, NC, where a client shot and killed his lawyer at the end of the mediation, then killed himself.

While details of the mediation itself are sketchy, reports are that a personal injury mediation was taking place at the law offices of Riddle & Brantley, a personal injury law firm in Goldsboro. Patrick White, an attorney with Riddle & Brantley, represented Francisco Sanchez and his wife, Christine Guerrero. Mr. White’s partner Gene Riddle was assisting him in the mediation. The names of the mediator and the other party have not been disclosed. According to Riddle’s interview with local news station ABC 11, the meeting seemed routine. Mediation progressed throughout the day, all parties landed on an amount, and everyone seemed to be pleased with the outcome shortly after 4 p.m.

The couple asked to speak privately. The mediator went into another office in the building, and White and Riddle went into the attorneys’ quarters. A few minutes later, Riddle saw Sanchez come into the attorneys’ quarters with a gun. The shooter aimed at Riddle, but missed; Riddle trippd and fell backward, and Sanchez turned his attention to White. White yelled at Sanchez to stop, and pushed him against the wall. There was another gunshot, and White fell against the wall. Sanchez left the room; Riddle got up, frantically looking for his daughter, who is also an attorney with the firm. Riddle saw Sanchez in the reception area, and told him to leave. Moments later, Sanchez shot himself in the head. Riddle later praised White as a hero for trying to stop Sanchez.

Although this kind of tragedy is rare, we can’t help but wonder if anything could have been done to prevent it. Should mediators impose a “no weapons” rule for in-person mediations? How would they enforce it? What if a party balks, citing 2nd amendment rights (and perhaps the state’s own gun laws)? I have a sentence in my retention agreement announcing, “All participants will refrain from bringing weapons of any kind into the mediation,” and I usually repeat this at the beginning of the mediation, but is that enough?

One of my colleagues mediated a case where, in caucus, Party A urged the mediator to find out whether Party B was carrying a gun. It turned out that Party B was indeed carrying a gun, but Party B refused to give up her gun unless Party A gave up his – sure enough, Party A had also brought a gun to the mediation. The mediator had both guns placed in the firm’s safe until after the mediation. But, in the few known cases where there was a shooting in connection with a mediation, it occurred after the mediation ended, as parties were leaving. In fatal shootings after mediations in Arizona and in Oregon, the shooter was a party who shot the other party; this North Carolina case is different in that the shooter killed his own attorney, before the mediation was completed.

My heart goes out to the family and colleagues of Patrick White. May he rest in peace.