Zela Claiborne

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

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


Ms. Claiborne’s extensive career as a mediator and arbitrator includes work on numerous large-scale construction disputes involving both public and private projects. She has worked with owners and developers, design teams, general contractors, sub-contractors and suppliers, construction managers, sureties, and others involved in the development and construction process. Ms. Claiborne’s experience includes the resolution of issues related to construction contracts, design errors, claims for cost overruns and delays, professional liability of architects and engineers, financing issues, soils issues, engineering and infrastructure issues, and construction defects.

Representative Matters

  • 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
  • Claim against contractor by developer of $12.5 million solar project in Arizona involving 45,000 ground mounted photovoltaic panels
  • Arbitrated $14 million claim involving construction of a large research facility
  • Arbitration of multi-million dollar infrastructure dispute brought by contractor relating to design, fabrication, and erection of structural steel racking and process piping arising out of oil refinery construction (tripartite, Chair) 
  • Architectural firm’s claim against a group of doctors/investors for fees arising out of work on a hospital project in New Delhi
  • Chair of arbitration panel for claim by contractor against owner arising out of a fast-track contract for expansion of wafer fabrication plant in Silicon Valley
  • Claim by architectural firm for over $1 million in fees and counterclaim by developer alleging errors and omissions and fee overcharges. The project, including four office buildings in the Silicon Valley, was cancelled during an economic downturn.
  • Claims by contractor arising out of construction of a solar electric system at an Air Force base (sole arbitrator)
  • Claim by contractor against structural steel fabricator and erector arising out of the construction of a college resource center
  • Infrastructure dispute brought by developer of an office building against a contractor and an architect for alleged defects in the curtain wall that allowed water intrusion. After a jury trial and an $8 million verdict, the case settled in mediation before appeals were filed.
  • Claim for payment by subcontractor arising out of work to furnish and install mechanical systems for construction of a rocket launch pad at Cape Canaveral
  • Claim of $14 million+ arising out of a major expansion to a manufacturing plant. The general contractor/design-builder claimed that recent county code requirements changed the structural design criteria in the contract and required an increase to the GMP. The owner denied the request for a change order and claimed that the cost overruns were due to the over design of the structure, an inaccurate bid, and various contractor inefficiencies.
  • Claims by design team for fees arising out of work on five schools, including both new construction and renovation of existing facilities. Counterclaims by school district for breach of contract and errors and omissions.
  • Claims by public owner for damages in excess of $1 million against design-builder of a wastewater treatment plant arising out of a landslide near the plant
  • Mediated $2 million claim by WBE contractor against the State of California Department of Transportation arising out of a highway pipeline rehabilitation project
  • Mediated a dispute between a public agency owner and electrical contractor regarding improvements to a hydroelectric power plant
  • Mediated settlement of claim for delays and defects against general contractor brought by Chinese developers of high-tech facility
  • Mediated a dispute between a university and an electrical contractor involving the construction of an ambulatory care facility
  • Mediated a contract dispute between electrical contractor and power company
  • Mediated a dispute involving a general contractor and the developer over the construction of a large apartment complex
  • Mediated a multimillion dollar claim against a public entity involving a micro-tunneling operation to install storm water and sewer lines under a river and airport runway near Seattle
  • Mediated claim against a rapid transit agency for delays and cost overruns arising out of a project to extend the train system
  • Mediated claim by electrical contractor against national laboratory arising out of work performed on an underground duct bank and manhole system
  • Mediated claims by contractors over cost overruns for the construction of roads in a Nevada city
  • Mediated claims by owner of high-rise office building against an architectural firm for deficient plans and specifications
  • Mediated dispute arising out of a contract for seismic retrofit of the Golden Gate Bridge
  • Mediated resolution of a $5 million+ claim by a school district and a general contractor against the project design team, including the architect, structural engineer, and MEP subconsultant
  • Mediated resolution of a multi-million dollar claim by a school district in the Midwest against the construction manager and architect for an $80 million project
  • Mediation involving construction of a $137 million medical center in Alaska
  • Sole arbitrator for claims of delay and cost overruns arising out of construction of a $330 million drug rehabilitation and prison facility
  • Mediation of $200 million in claims between a public owner and a joint venture contractor arising out of a tunneling project for the conveyance system of a wastewater treatment plant; work involved use of a slurry tunnel boring machine and claims included breach of contract, differing site conditions, and defective specifications
  • Honors
    • Recognized as a leading practitioner, Mediation, Who's Who Legal: California, 2014-2019
    • Recognized as a "Best Lawyers, Alternative Dispute Resolution Category," Best Lawyers in America, 2008-2020
    • Recognized as a "Super Lawyer in Mediation and Arbitration," San Francisco Magazine, 2005-Present
  • Memberships
    • 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
    • “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.”




This page is for general information purposes.  JAMS makes no representations or warranties regarding its accuracy or completeness.  Interested persons should conduct their own research regarding information on this website before deciding to use JAMS, including investigation and research of JAMS neutrals. See More