St. Valentine, Geoffrey Chaucer and Mandated Mediation

St. Valentine, Geoffrey Chaucer and Mandated Mediation

St. Valentine, Geoffrey Chaucer and Mandated Mediation

Just who was St. Valentine and why do we celebrate courtly love every February 14? How does the 14th-century Geoffrey Chaucer connect with the 3rd-century Valentine and what could it possibly have to do with compulsory mediation? After researching St. Valentine to try to find the origins of Valentine’s Day celebrations, these historical figures and the current ADR hot topic of mandated mediation came together, at least for me. Let me try to connect the dots.

Surprisingly little is reliably known about St. Valentine of Rome. He was a 3rd-century Roman Catholic priest, and perhaps a bishop, who converted many to Christianity and secretly performed many marriages. These marriages of the recently converted Christians defied an edict of Emperor Claudius Gothic (Claudius II). Claudius II desperately needed young men to serve in the military on various Roman campaigns. The Romans enlisted unmarried men as they believed husbands would be too consumed with spouses and families to be effective soldiers. Valentine’s actions cut into the pool of available talent for Claudius II and protected the recently converted.

Claudius II had Valentine imprisoned in about the year 269. A daughter of one of Valentine’s jailers suffered blindness. Valentine laid hands on the girl who then recovered her vision. Claudius II, apparently impressed with this report, had Valentine transferred to Claudius II’s direct custody. Eventually, Valentine sought to convert Claudius II to Christianity. At that point, Claudius II ordered Valentine’s execution. On February 14, Valentine was beaten, stoned and then beheaded. Valentine left behind a note which read “Your Valentine.”

The Catholic Church recognized Valentine as a saint who was martyred for his faith. February 14 was set as the feast day for St. Valentine. For more than the next 1000 years, no special St. Valentine’s celebrations followed except the annual, spiritual recognition of his martyrdom on his feast day.

Enter Geoffrey Chaucer and his work, Parlement of Foules. Chaucer described an established tradition, posing as historical fact, about St. Valentine and February 14. No record exists of any courtly love celebrations on February 14 prior to the year 1375. Yet, at that time, Chaucer penned that both birds and people come together in courtship on February 14: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / When every Foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Thereafter, “scholars” documenting the lives of saints relied on the Chaucer historical reference to associate St. Valentine with lovers and February 14 as the day to celebrate romance. Chaucer’s charade has lead us to candy hearts, greeting cards, flowers, and long waits at any restaurant on February 14. The apparent sole remnant of actual tie between St. Valentine and Valentine’s Day is the February 14 sign off “Your Valentine”.

As Valentine’s Day has evolved, or morphed, into the current celebration of love and romance, it may not matter terribly much how we got here. Even if viewed as a “Hallmark Holiday”, Valentine’s Day can be approached with basic recognition for those we love and care about. If you receive a token with the tag line “Your Valentine”, perhaps you can marvel at the cottage industry which has blossomed from two poetic lines which flowed from Chaucer’s quill.

Nice story. How does it connect with mandatory mediation? As the mediation process matures, tribunals recognize it more and more as a fundamental resolution tool. In some jurisdictions, mediation has grown beyond commonplace to become mandated. The concept of forced mediation does not readily reconcile with the definition of mediation which starts with a voluntary process by willing participants.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, parties are obliged to mediate once one litigant requests mediation. A party may object to mediation, but that party must move for relief before the court and establish good cause to avoid mediation. Courts have found pessimism as to outcome, hostility between the parties and difficult international logistics as failing to qualify as proper grounds to refuse to mediate. See, Matsqui First Nation v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 BC 1409; and Executive Inn Inc. v. Tan, 2008 BCCA 93.

The Civil Justice Council for England and Wales issued an Interim Report in late 2017 identifying the Pros and Cons of mandatory mediation as those jurisdictions are heading in that direction. Both Vancouver courts and this Civil Justice Council recognize the high success rates of mediation, the cost-effective nature of the mediation process, the ability of mediation to narrow issues in disputes even where the mediation does not fully succeed, and the flexibility offered in mediation to craft solutions beyond the legal claims.

These and other mandatory mediation programs appear at odds with the fundamental concept of mediation as an entirely voluntary process. Part of the reason for the voluntary nature is that the parties will trust the confidential process so as to more freely exchange information and positions, and be prepared to compromise. If parties are compelled to mediate, this psychological “buy in” may be absent. Mediators may initially be challenged simply to get parties to accept the process forced upon them.

Perhaps these reasons are why we do not have many mandatory mediation programs in the U.S. Or do we? Many local court rules and standing case management orders at both the federal and state levels include obligations for mediation or other forms of ADR prior to a case reaching trial. Numerous courts now include some form of Early Neutral Evaluation (ENE). Quite often, parties mediate to satisfy the ENE obligations.

In addition, as with many litigators, I have participated in numerous Cases Management Conferences where the judge declares that the case appears a good candidate for mediation and inquires if the parties agree. Uniformly, the lawyers respond: “Of course, Your Honor. We will get that scheduled right away.” These mediations are mandatory in every sense of the word. I always longed to hear a lawyer answer that judicial inquiry with: “No, Judge. That is a terrible idea. The parties can barely stand to be in the same room and we would rather fight it out in your courtroom.”

When analyzed fairly, numerous mediations in the U.S. systems have been and remain mandatory even if lacking that specific label. Frankly, by memory, I cannot distinguish success rates between truly voluntary mediations and those which initiated due to some obligation. While I admit that this recollection survey is both personal and not scientific, the rates of ultimate success are the same. Further, I cannot recall any meaningful objection to the process itself being raised by mediation participants based on the fact they felt obliged to be in attendance. At most, I recall one participant stating that he was at the mediation merely to check off a box. After that statement, the party became fully engaged in the mediation.

As with the current over-the-top Valentine’s Day celebrations, it does not meaningfully matter how we got here. Once parties become engaged in mediation, regardless of the source, it appears that the process takes over as guided by the skilled and trained mediator. Chaucer has made me rethink my initial negative response to the concept of mandatory mediation.

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