FINRA ODR In-Person Hearings Postponed Again, and AAA Follows Suit. Have We Seen the First FINRA Award with a Virus-Related Virtual Hearing?
Posted on Categories Arbitration Awards, Coronavirus, News, Virtual ADRTags , , ,

By George H. Friedman, SAA Editor-in-Chief

The FINRA Office of Dispute Resolution (“ODR”) announcement on administrative postponement of in-person hearings through May 31 has been updated to affect hearings though July 3. ODR has also posted new guidance on Zoom hearings, addressing security issues. Just in time, as we think we've seen the first Award mentioning a virtual hearing necessitated by COVID-19. And the AAA has updated its virus-related guidance, including in-person hearing postponements. 

FINRA Update

ODR states: “Please note that postponing a hearing will not affect other case deadlines. All case deadlines will continue to apply and must be timely met unless the parties jointly agree otherwise.” The updated announcement now offers waivers of fees for stipulated postponement of hearings set for July 6 - September 4. Says ODR: “To avoid postponement fees, parties must provide written notice of the stipulation to adjourn more than 20 days prior to the first scheduled hearing date. Parties stipulating to adjourn in-person hearing dates should also consider stipulating to changing other case deadlines.”

Videoconference Security Guidance

While Zoom continues to be available for virtual hearings by party agreement or arbitrator order, the Authority has posted new guidance addressing security issues. Specifically: “FINRA implements the following security measures for all arbitrations and mediations conducted by Zoom: a unique, randomly-generated meeting ID; a unique, randomly-generated meeting password to be admitted to the meeting; and use of the ‘waiting room feature’ to ensure that only invited participants are admitted to the meeting. In addition, FINRA-administered meetings are restricted to Zoom’s US data centers.” The guidance also provides detailed information on the process for setting up a Zoom hearing.

First ODR Award Referencing a Virtual Hearing?

Speaking of which, we’ve come across what we think is the first FINRA Award in a case including a hearing by videoconference due to the Coronavirus. The Award in Dominick & Dickerman LLC v. Wunderlich Securities, Inc., FINRA ID #17-01930 (New York, NY, Apr. 6, 2020) says: “Pursuant to an agreement between counsels, all the hearings, except March 12, were held at the offices of Claimants’ counsel in New York City. On the consent of counsel for both sides and the arbitrators, the March 12 hearing was held virtually via Zoom with counsel for Claimants, counsel for Respondents and the arbitrators all being at different locations due to concern with the coronavirus crisis.” 

AAA (and Others)

AAA on April 20 issued updated COVID-19 guidance, including an announcement that no in-person hearings will take place through June 1. The Association has also released three guides on virtual hearings: Virtual Hearing Guide for Arbitrators and Parties; Virtual Hearing Guide for Arbitrators and Parties Utilizing ZOOM; and Order and Procedures for a Virtual Hearing via Videoconference. The ICC has also issued updated Coronavirus guidance, and several international ADR providers issued a joint statement, Arbitration and COVID-19, pledging cooperation and collaboration.

(ed: *We’re not surprised about the shifting ODR postponed hearing dates. Perhaps Independence Day will be the charm? **An Alert h/t for advising us of the FINRA Award to Harry A. Jacobowitz, a research lawyer of thirty years and SAC’s former Award Database manager. Mr. Jacobowitz now serves in a consulting capacity to SAC and the Alert and is available to perform customized Award searches for subscribers and others. He can be reached at ***Perhaps FINRA will add to Arbitration Awards Online an easy way to identify Awards reflecting a hearing conducted virtually? ****For a comprehensive analysis of how the ADR providers, constituents, and case filings are adjusting to the virus, we recommend two recent SAC blog posts: That Didn’t Take Very Long! First “Corona Crash” Arbitrations Seem To Already Be on the Way. And a Major Industry Event Is Cancelled; and Coronavirus and the ADR Providers – What You Need to Know.) (SAC Ref. No. 2020-15-01)

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