When Justice Edward A. Panelli retired last year from the California Supreme Court, eight years before his term was set to expire, he had visions of leisurely days on the golf course. He would keep his hand in the law by adjudicating a few matters. But mostly, his time would be his own. "A short-lived fantasy," Panelli now recalls.
Then Panelli got an offer he couldn't refuse. John Unroe, CEO of Judicial Arbitration Mediation Services/Endispute, the fast-growing Orange (Calif.) mediation firm, wanted Panelli as JAMS's chief judge. It wasn't just that the 63-year-old jurist would have his pick of cases involving everything from auto injuries to toxic spills. For Panelli, the son of poor Italian immigrants, a big temptation was also the prospect of earning $250,000 a year, double what he was making when he stepped down after 26 years on the bench. The action and the money, says Panelli, "can be very seductive." (Panelli splits evenly with JAMS a $500-an-hour fee.)
In little over a year at JAMS, Panelli has bought and is remodeling a new home in Saratoga, Calif. And like many other judges who have cashed in on private justice, Panelli is working harder than ever. He has handled 250 cases so far, and his calendar is booked through August. "I helped make law that affected 30 million Californians," says Panelli. "But you would never see the results. Here, if you've done your job well, everyone goes home with big smiles."
In his biggest case yet, Panelli, a wiry runner with two New York City Marathons under his belt, bounced between insurers and groups of investors to hammer out a decade-long dispute stemming from a $130 million securities fraud. After only three days, Panelli cracked the case, and investors got 80% of their money.
Panelli says he misses the prestige of the California Supreme Court. Still, he views his current job as a form of public service. "The courts are overburdened and need relief," he says. For Panelli, providing that relief is the best job he has ever had.