Zela Claiborne

Zela ''Zee'' G. Claiborne, Esq.

JAMS Mediator, Arbitrator and Referee/Special Master

Case Manager
Kathleen Hanley
T: 415-774-2617
F: 415-982-5287
Two Embarcadero Center, Suite 1500, San Francisco, CA 94111

Zela ''Zee'' G. Claiborne is available to conduct cases virtually. JAMS is equipped to provide virtual ADR services on a variety of online platforms, including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, and more.


Ms. Claiborne has arbitrated hundreds of cases since 1991. A neutral with a reputation for fairness and proven ability to manage and adjudicate complex disputes, she has arbitrated a wide variety of cases involving domestic and international business contracts, intellectual property, real estate, construction contracts and defects, and professional liability claims.

As a Fellow in the College of Commercial Arbitrators, Ms. Claiborne is a highly recognized speaker on national and international arbitration issues.

Representative Arbitrations

  • Accounting:
    • Accounting dispute among patent attorneys regarding payment due to a departing partner under a partnership agreement (sole arbitrator)
    • Claim by money manager (“manager of managers”) for fees for managing investments for partnerships, a foundation, and a trust, all part of a large Silicon Valley fortune. Allegations included improper accounting, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion, and entitlement to punitive damages (tripartite)
    • Arbitration venued in New York that involved an accounting malpractice case brought by a Liquidation Trust claiming over $100 million in damages arising out of the allegedly negligent audit of an international company in the business of selling televisions; allegations included the failure to discover millions of dollars in fabricated sales to China (tripartite)
  • Business:
    • Arbitration of a dispute among shareholders of a successful online hunting gear business regarding entitlement to acquire shares of its deceased founder pursuant to various contractural agreements (sole arbitrator)
    • Arbitration of a dispute arising out of an Asset Purchase Agreement and a Consulting Agreement between two companies in the wine industry (sole arbitrator)
    • Disputes between general partners of a venture capital firm involving claims of breaches of contract and fiduciary duties and alleged damage to reputation (sole arbitrator) 
    • Arbitration of claim arising out of an incubator relationship with patent-holders for development of a sensor used in medical and other scientific applications; allegations include failure to prepare prototypes and ready the invention for commercialization  (sole arbitrator)  
    • Arbitration of international dispute arising out of a Stock Purchase Agreement between companies in Spain and the U.S. involved in the electronic tolling industry (tripartite; chair)
    • Suit by liberal arts college against a hedge fund manager alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud (sole arbitrator)
    • Dispute arising out of a contract to install and test an electronic timecard system for a governmental agency (sole arbitrator)
    • Dispute between dairy farmers and a large bank regarding allegedly promised financing (tripartite; chair)
    • Dispute between manufacturer and distributor of products used in the electronics industry, including claims of breach of contract and antitrust violations (sole arbitrator)
    • International case involving a pricing dispute between high tech companies in the U.S. and Israel (sole arbitrator)
    • International dispute between U.S. semiconductor manufacturer and Hong Kong distributor for breach of contract, fraud, and unauthorized use of trade secrets (sole arbitrator)
    • Mining dispute between a company dredge mining for gold and another mining aggregates from dredge tailings arising out of contracts setting forth the parties' rights on shared property
  • Construction:
    • Tripartite arbitration of a dispute arising out of a multi-million dollar contract for work related to construction of a deep foundation system for a $1.5 billion mixed-use development in Florida. Handled substantial discovery and pre-trial motion issues, leading to “eve of trial” settlement
    • Multi-million dollar claim by contractor and surety against owner for cost overruns and delays, allegedly due to deficient plans and specifications, arising out of construction of a large research facility (tripartite)
    • Multi-million dollar delay and cost overrun claims by contractor against owner arising out of a fast-track contract for expansion of wafer fabrication plant (tripartite; chair)
    • Multiple construction cases involving claims by developers, owners, general contractors, subcontractors, construction managers, sureties, architects, and engineers arising out of a wide variety of commercial and residential projects
    • Multiple cases involving construction defects
    • School district’s claims against design team and contractor for delays and cost overruns (sole arbitrator)
    • Subcontractor’s claims against general contractor for delays and cost overruns arising out of construction of a $330 million prison facility (sole arbitrator)
    • Suit against soils engineers alleging improper compaction of soil at construction of university buildings (sole arbitrator)
    • One million dollar claim for fees by architects and counterclaim by developer alleging errors and omissions in the drawings and fee overcharges involving four office buildings in Silicon Valley (sole arbitrator)
    • School district’s claim against design team alleging inaccurate and uncoordinated construction drawings and specifications (sole arbitrator)
  • Energy:
    • Arbitration of claims by a group of investors against a solar company alleging mismanagement of the company
    • Arbitration of claims for oil and gas royalties (sole arbitrator, Baseball arbitration)
    • ICC arbitration of dispute between Spanish and U.S. contractors arising out of construction of a 205.8 megawatt single-axis tracker solar power plant including 3.1 million photovoltaic solar modules at the US-Mexico border (tripartite)
  • Employment 
    • Arbitration of multi-million dollar claims against a private equity firm in Boston  brought by an individual recruited to the firm with allegedly false promises that he would receive an equity ownership interest in the firm and other valuable compensation.  This case settled just before hearings (tripartite; Chair)
  • Environmental:
    •  $20 million claim by golf course owners against an international chemical company arising out of claims for environmental damage after application of an herbicide that became the subject of an EPA Stop Sale Order (sole arbitrator)
  • Health Care: 
    • Arbitration of a fee dispute between a hospital group and a non-profit HMO regarding the quantum meruit or fair market value of trauma and emergency services provided to members of the HMO over several years (tripartite; Chair) 
  • Insurance:
    • Arbitration of a multi-million dollar claim by an insurance company underwriting the business of third party administrator of extended warranty plans for consumer electronics (sole arbitrator)
  • Intellectual Property:
    • Presided over international arbitration of a patent dispute between two companies in the business of designing and manufacturing hard disk drives, one based in the U.S. and one based in Japan. The parties entered into a Covenant Agreement for “patent peace” and the main issue was whether infringement claims brought in federal court were barred by the covenant not to sue. Arbitration utilized services of an interpreter (tripartite)
    • Arbitration of claims by large school district arising out of a licensing and services agreement for complex software developed to centralize educational records and track all students and programs (tripartite)
    • Dispute arising out of a Stock Purchase Agreement involving the sale of a business that tests integrated circuits and other electronic components for use in high profile applications such as aircraft navigation and braking systems, nuclear control rod systems, and military equipment; allegations against the seller included a failure to disclose defects in the testing software (sole arbitrator)
    • Claims of misappropriation of trade secrets, trademark infringement, and breach of contract arising out of licensing agreement between two non-profits serving the developmentally disabled (sole arbitrator) 
    • Claims by company representing a famous artist against a dealer for payment due and trademark infringement (tripartite)
    • Claims for monetary damages and injunctive relief arising out of a licensing agreement for computerized software for dialysis treatment and management (tripartite)
    • Claims of breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets between a manufacturer of commercial building automation systems and a provider of wireless distribution systems (sole arbitrator)
    • Claims of breach of contract, fraud, and return of IP between an internet entertainment company and a provider of web hosting, IP transit, and software development services (tripartite)
    • Dispute involving licensing claims to certain worldwide patents for cardiac stents, valued at approximately $4 billion (tripartite; Chair)
    • International licensing dispute arising out of an agreement regarding a patent for a medical device (tripartite)
    • International licensing dispute between Canadian and U.S. companies arising out of an International Marketing Agreement for the manufacture of recreational installations (sole arbitrator)
  • Professional Liability:
    • Arbitration venued in New York that involved an accounting malpractice case brought by a Liquidation Trust claiming over $100 million in damages arising out of the allegedly negligent audit of an international company in the business of selling televisions. Allegations included the failure to discover millions of dollars in fabricated sales to China (tripartite)
    • Dispute between general partner and limited partners involving indemnity for fees and costs arising out of professional liability suit against real estate appraiser (tripartite)
    • Sole arbitrator for suit by liberal arts college against a hedge fund manager alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud
    • Claim against accountant and large stock brokerage firm for damages due to alleged erroneous advice regarding the tax consequences of donating stock to a charitable foundation (sole arbitrator)
    • Claim against a stock broker-dealer and a large brokerage firm for millions of dollars in damages due to alleged mishandling of a large account (tripartite)
  • Real Estate:
    • Claims by the developer of abalone farm against harbor district alleging district’s breach of a fifty-five year lease caused loss of the business (tripartite; Chair)
    • Landlord-tenant dispute involving a large commercial property in Silicon Valley involving options to extend lease or purchase property as a tax-free exchange (sole arbitrator)
    • Multiple cases involving claims by purchasers of commercial and residential property regarding failure to make full disclosures
    • Purchaser of multi-unit residential building sues sellers and brokers for failure to make full disclosures (sole arbitrator)
    • Purchaser of upscale residence “as-is” alleges nondisclosure of defects by seller and broker (sole arbitrator)
    • Real estate dispute between partners regarding exercise of option to purchase land for the development of over 200 homes (tripartite)
    • Ten-million dollar claim arising out of a long-term lease on national historic preservation site (tripartite)
Completed Virtual ADR training conducted by the JAMS Institute, the training arm of JAMS.

  • Honors
    • Recognized as a leading practitioner, Mediation, Who's Who Legal: California, 2014-2022
    • Recognized as a "Best Lawyers, Alternative Dispute Resolution Category," Best Lawyers in America, 2008-2022
    • Recognized as a "Super Lawyer in Mediation and Arbitration," San Francisco Magazine, 2005-2022
      • Selected as a Top Women Attorney in Northern California and a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel
  • Publications 
  • Speaking
  • Memberships
    • Member, Sino-U.S. International Commercial Co-Mediation Panel (JAMS and the Shanghai Commercial Mediation Center)
    • Member, Northern California International Arbitration Club (NCIAC)
    • Chair, ABA Arbitration Institute, Los Angeles, 2011, Philadelphia, 2012, and Washington, D.C., 2014
    • Member, Executive Advisory Committee of CPR: International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution
    • Member, National Panel of Distinguished Neutrals, CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution
    • Member, Mediation Panel, US District Court, Northern District
    • Member, American Bar Association, Forum on the Construction Industry (Governing Committee, 1996-1999), Litigation Section, and Dispute Resolution Section; Association of Business Trial Lawyers (ABTL Report, Editorial Board, 1991-2001); California Bar Association; San Francisco Bar Association; California Dispute Resolution Counsel
    • Former Member, American Arbitration Association Board of Directors, National (AAA) and International (ICDR) Rosters of Mediators and Arbitrators for large and complex cases
  • Professional Activities
    • Judge pro tem, San Francisco Superior Court
    • Speaker on a variety of ADR topics before professional organizations including the American Bar Association (Dispute Resolution Section, Forum on the Construction Industry, Litigation Section), CPR Institute, International Centre for Dispute Resolution, Intellectual Property Owners, Patent Law Institute, American College of Construction Lawyers, the ICC, the AAA, Canadian Bar Association, New York Bar Association, Oregon State Bar, Bar Association of San Francisco, California Judges Association, National Conference on Financial Management, Construction Industry Institute, ALI-ABA ("Top Ten Cost Effective Ways to Resolve Construction Disputes" webcast), College of Commercial Arbitrators, International Arbitrators Club, California Women Lawyers, and others
    • "The Experience Curve," ADR Profile, Daily Journal, April 3, 2015
    • Panelist, International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (CPR) and CPR China Panel; International Chamber of Commerce; and DPR Hawaii
    • Fellow, College of Commercial Arbitrators (Board of Directors); Fellow, American College of Construction Lawyers
    • Faculty, ABA Arbitration Institute, San Francisco, 2009 and Washington DC, 2010
    • IMI Certified Mediator
  • Full-time mediator and arbitrator, 1998-present
  • Partner/Associate, Bronson, Bronson & McKinnon LLP, San Francisco, 1982-1998
  • J.D., University of California, Berkeley School of Law (formerly Boalt Hall School of Law), 1982
  • M.A., University of Texas, Austin
  • B.A., Beloit College, Wisconsin

Counsel Comments

    • “Her greatest strength is taking a volatile situation and making it work. At the end of the mediation when the parties settle and have to work together again, there is nobody I’d rather have.”

      - Prominent Attorney
    • "[Zee] quickly grasps the legal, financial and real world aspects of the dispute. She is able to close the deal."

      -In-House Counsel, Bay Area Tech Firm
    • "Zee put in extra effort to get our matter settled. She really did a masterful job at assessing the facts, the issues, and most importantly, the personalities."

      -Senior Partner, Top Bay Area Law Firm
    • "Thanks again for your help on this matter [...] it's safe to say we would not be at this point without your hard work and willingness to keep pushing."

      - Attorney, Greater Bay Area 
    • “Zee has a substantial number of qualities that one would expect of a mediator with her experience… Zee’s greatest strength, and the primary reason I continue to work with her and refer partners and colleagues to her, is her ability to mediate difficult, sometimes acrimonious cases in situations where the parties need to continue to work together postlitigation/settlement. Zee is the most skilled mediator I have ever seen in such cases…Where opposing parties need to work together going forward…her skill and deft touch is unmatched in my experience.”
    • “Let me thank [Zee] for [her] work, patience and understanding in this case…[Her] thoughtful rulings were, from my perspective, instrumental in bringing this matter to a proper conclusion.”
    • "Zee Claiborne is an excellent mediator…She is very smart, has good people skills, and is able to move people to more reasonable and realistic positions. She quickly grasps the legal, financial and real world aspects of the dispute. She is able to close the deal. I think very highly of her and would use her again as mediator.”
    • “Her greatest strength is taking a volatile situation and making it work. At the end of the mediation when the parties settle and have to work together again, there is nobody I’d rather have.”
    • “I enjoyed working with [Zee] and truly appreciated [her] ability to quickly understand the issues at the heart of the dispute and for [her] dedication to getting a deal done. In addition, I commend [Zee] for [her] ability to keep an open mind by listening to the issues of concern, and willingness to engage in open and frank exchanges regarding our positions on the issues. Should we find ourselves in need of mediation services, [Zee] will be at the top of the list.”
    • “A big thank you [to Zee] for the extra effort to get our matter settled yesterday. It was fun to see [her] in action and I am duly impressed (and will spread the word accordingly)! [She] really did a masterful job at assessing the facts, the issues, and most importantly, the personalities.”




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