The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan recently upheld the payment of fees to the Court Ombuds who had served as a court-appointed facilitator in a pending case. Earlier this year, the federal trial court ordered the parties to a lawsuit, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and American Laser Eye Centers, to a facilitation with George J. Bedrosian. The matter did not settle and Bedrosian, who was appointed as the District Court's first ombudsman in 2005, submitted a bill for his services to the parties. (In his role as the Ombuds, Bedrosian functions as an intermediary between judicial offices and the bar.) The EEOC argued that is should not have to pay because it was a federal agency and suggested that Bedrosian should not be compensated because he also acts as the Ombuds for the court. The court ruled that Bedrosian's status as Ombuds had no relationship to his status as an appointed facilitator and payment was ordered. (EEOC v. Am. Laser Ctrs., LLC, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 77936 (E.D. Mich. Oct. 1, 2008); USDC, ED Michigan Ombuds; Bedrosian Profile.)
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Under the circumstances, the court's holding was appropriate because it respected and valued the work of the facilitator. The court also understood that the Ombuds could serve in two roles. However, as a practical matter, the situation indicates the need for the court's Ombuds to avoid serving also as a court-appointed facilitator. In this case, the interest of the Ombuds/facilitator was in direct conflict with the interests of a party. As such, his perceived neutrality and effectiveness as an intermediary has been jeopardized.