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Hon. Ellen Sickles James (Ret.)

Hon. Ellen Sickles James (Ret.)

General Biography
Practice Areas
Class Action/Mass Tort
Construction/Construction Defect
Personal Injury/Torts
Product Liability
Professional Liability/Malpractice
Real Estate/Real Property
Special Master/Discovery Referee
Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities
Background and Education
Hon. Ellen Sickles James (Ret.), is known for her exceptional settlement skills and ability to connect to counsel and clients in both a personal and professional manner.  A respected and experienced mediator, Judge James communicates effectively and patiently to bring closure to the diverse range of complex issues she handles.  Through the thousands of cases she has settled nationwide, Judge James has earned the reputation of having a dedicated, compassionate and creative command.

ADR Experience and Qualifications

Since 1997, Judge James has served throughout the United States as a JAMS mediator, arbitrator, Judge Pro-Tem, and special master in multi-party, complex litigation in a multitude of areas of civil law.  She has mediated hundreds of complex personal injury, wrongful death, and employment cases.  She has expertise in business, commercial, real estate, and attorney fee disputes as well as a myriad of professional liability cases.  Her work has resulted in the settlement of complicated insurance coverage cases, wills and trusts, and construction litigation matters.

Representative Matters

  • Business/Commercial
      • Mediated law firm dissolutions 
      • Mediated breach of contract between a care facility and physical therapist
      • Mediated breach of contract dispute involving alleged failure to deliver and refusal to return 
      • Mediated breach of contract dispute involving small family-owned company 
      • Mediated complex attorneys fee dispute 
      • Mediated case involving cross-claims related to the sale of a skilled nursing facility and lease of the property 
      • Mediated alleged violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C § 1030
      • Mediated alleged fraudulently induced agreement and a breach of duty or good faith and fair dealing
      • Mediated breach of fiduciary duty 
      • Mediated handled public entity disputes between counties, cities, and public transportation systems 
  • Class Action/Mass Tort
      • Mediated a class action lawsuit brought against major national theater group where settlement resulted in a court-enforceable commitment to a timetable for installing captioning technology for the hearing impaired in every theater in California that is converted to digital projection
      • Mediated credit card fraud class actions
      • Appointed Special Master for Minor Compromises for the Fire Victim Trust. Judge James reviews and approves any minors’ compromises in conjunction with the evaluation, disallowance, resolution, settlement, and approval of all Fire Victim Claims. She also oversees the implementation and enforcement of any measures approved by the Court for the protection of minors or adult persons with disabilities on whose behalf a Fire Victim Claim has been submitted
  • Construction/Construction Defect
      • Presided over construction disputes involving class actions, defective materials, complex/multiparty, property damage
      • Mediated large developments with multiple construction and land acquisition issues, including mold
      • Mediated dispute involving soil conditions allegedly causing damage to the doors, wall, floors
      • Mediated disputes involving claims of substantial damages; poorly designed plans and negligent construction of building owned by private or public entities as well as additional claims of delays, errors and omissions 
      • Arbitrated claim for violation of standards for residential construction, negligence, strict liability, breach of implied warranty and breach of fiduciary duty
  • Employment
      • Mediated and Arbitrated cases involving wage and hour class disputes
      • Mediated claims of failure to accommodate for disability and counter claims of failure to perform job duties and expectations for performance 
      • Mediated allegations of trade secret theft by former employees
      • Mediated termination of employee for sending confidential and proprietary business information 
      • Mediated claims of retaliation and constructive termination 
      • Mediated claims of whistleblowing 
      • Mediated mental health care actions
      • Mediated ERISA welfare benefit denial cases, primarily involving the denial of long-term disability benefits
      • Mediated wrongful termination cases involving discrimination and harassment claims 
      • Mediated disability discrimination claim brought by employees against a public entity 
      • Mediated age discrimination case involving alleged violation of California’s Fair Employment and Housing ACT (FEHA), failure to prevent aga discrimination in violation of FEHA, wrongful termination and declaratory and injunctive relief 
      • Mediated alleged sexual harassment and battery of minor 
      • Mediated alleged claims of employee being discriminated against and terminated due to racism of supervisor 
      • Mediated claim involving employers failure to prevent harassment 
      • Mediated case involving claims of discrimination based on gender identity, transgender, gender expression, gender and sexual orientation 
      • Arbitrated wrongful termination cases involving discrimination and harassment claims 
  • Environmental
      • Mediated cases involving toxic releases from varies refineries; including class claims for personal injury and property damages
  • Estates/Probate/Trusts
      • Mediated cases involving contested wills and trusts
      • Mediated claims of lack of capacity and undue influence in the preparation of wills and trusts 
      • Mediated disputes between beneficiaries related to estate plans and the administration of the estate plans
      • Mediated unauthorized misappropriation of trust funds 
      • Mediated alleged financial elder abuse, breaches of fiduciary duty, and will contest 
  • Insurance
      • Mediated breach of contract and bad faith in connection with long-term disability policy 
      • Mediated claim against Insurers alleging breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, reformation of the policy and negligence 
      • Mediated coverage issues related to auto accident bodily injury, property damage to residential and commercial structures, bad faith disputes, entitlement to disability benefits, and inter-carrier disputes 
  • Personal Injury/Torts
      • Mediated personal injury matters involving uninsured motorist and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) claims
      • Mediated wrongful death claims
      • Mediated case involving alleged transmission of a high risk sexual transmitted disease 
      • Mediated personal injury cases involving motorist and biker 
      • Mediated personal injury cases involving premise liability 
      • Mediated major pipeline explosion injury cases
      • Mediated medical malpractice personal injury claims
      • Mediated aviation claims involving:
        • Wrongful deaths and property damage including major airline, helicopter, small aircraft, and hot air balloon accidents
        • Civil action brought by passengers against airline for alleged personal injuries arising from flight 
        • Product liability and wrongful death case involving small aircraft craft crash 
        • Turbulent airplane landing
      • Mediated catastrophic Injury/wrongful death cases involving: 
        • Amusement Park catastrophic injury cases
        • Cases involving traumatic brain injury from:
          • car accidents
          • gym equipment 
          • turbulent airplane landing
          • falling wooden pallet 
          • Catastrophic injuries including acute liver failure requiring a liver transplant caused by a dietary supplement
      • Mediated sexual harassment, abuse and assault cases 
      • Mediated cases involving highly sensitive and emotionally charged cases involving sexual assault, rape, abuse and injury to adults, minors and children
  • Product Liability
      • Mediated breach of contract and bad faith in connection with long-term disability policy 
      • Mediated claim against Insurers alleging breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and fair dealing, reformation of the policy and negligence 
      • Mediated coverage issues related to auto accident bodily injury, property damage to residential and commercial structures, bad faith disputes, entitlement to disability benefits, and inter-carrier disputes 
  • Professional Liability/Malpractice
      • Mediated legal, dental, medical, accounting, and chiropractic malpractice disputes
      • Mediated claims of professional liability involving an architect and defect plans
      • Mediated dispute involving professional malpractice of a pharmacy distributing an incorrect prescription and claims of negligence
      • Mediated professional negligence case against insurance broker
  • Real Estate/Real Property
      • Mediated cases involving disputed leases, boundary, sales, and commission
      • Mediated cases involving claims of wrongful foreclosure causing the forfeiture of the family home
      • Mediated commercial lease renewal and rent amount dispute
      • Mediated dispute between neighbors over various issues including property lines, views, trees and vegetation, cameras, and general interactions
      • Mediated trespass ejectment case
      • Mediated case involving purchase of residence with multiple undisclosed construction defects
      • Mediated claims brought by and against Homeowner Association
      • Mediated landlord/tenant case involving:
        • class actions involving failure to return security deposits, failure to itemize statement of security deposit deductions, and development project issues
        • claims made against landlords including habitability, wrongful eviction, and constructive eviction
      • Arbitrated breach of a city’s responsibility for landslide on claimant’s property


Honors, Memberships, and Professional Activities

Completed Virtual ADR training conducted by the JAMS Institute, the training arm of JAMS.

  • Recognized as a "Top Neutral," Daily Journal Top California Neutrals List, 2013
  • Member, Gender Task Force, JAMS, 2008-present
  • Distinguished Mediator of the Year Award, San Francisco Trial Lawyers' Association, 2008
  • Member, Committee on Mediator Ethical Guidance, American Bar Association Dispute Resolution Section, 2006-present
  • Adjunct Professor at Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California 2002 and 2003
  • Lecturer for The American Bar Association, CEB, The Rutter Group, and numerous local Bar Associations and community groups
  • Above and Beyond Award, Alameda County Trial Lawyers Association, 1998
  • Served on the Judicial Council Complex Litigation Task Force, 1997-1999 and the Judicial Council Task Force on the Quality of Justice, 1997-1999
  • Chairperson, Contra Costa Superior Court Trials Committee and Civil Bench Bar Committee, 1991-1997
  • Organized Contra Costa Judicial Council Trials Management Program, 1991
  • Trial Judge of the Year, Alameda-Contra Costa Trial Lawyers Association, 1987
  • Member, Judicial Council Blue Ribbon Panel of Experts on Arbitrator Ethics
ADR Profiles

Background and Education

  • Presiding Judge, Civil Division, Contra Costa County Superior Court, 1991-1997
  • Superior Court Judge Liaison to First District Court of Appeal, 1990-1997
  • Presiding Judge, Superior Court Appellate Division, 1986
  • Associate Justice, (pro tem), First District Court of Appeal, 1985
  • Judge, Mt. Diablo Judicial District Municipal Court, 1976-1982; (elected Presiding Judge, 1978)
  • J.D., University of California, Berkeley School of Law (formerly Boalt Hall School of Law), 1969
  • B.A., Sarah Lawrence College, 1965


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