The COVID-19 pandemic has forced courts and ADR forums across the country to grapple with how to safely conduct hearings and other in-person proceedings. FINRA began making changes in early March, when it administratively postponed all in-person arbitration and mediation hearings through the end of May. As the pandemic persisted, those postponements were extended. This summer, FINRA also permitted parties to hold virtual hearings via Zoom, either by agreement or panel order. Most recently, FINRA administratively postponed all in-person arbitration and mediation hearings scheduled through December 4, 2020 and renewed its commitment to support virtual hearings:
FINRA Dispute Resolution Services (DRS) is focused on providing the support and services necessary for arbitration and mediation hearings to proceed telephonically or by Zoom when the parties stipulate to such an approach or the arbitration panel orders it. Staff are available to schedule virtual hearings and provide technical support and resources and FINRA has made available a Virtual Hearing Guide for Arbitrators and an Arbitrator Training Video for Virtual Hearings. Please contact your case administrator if you have any questions about virtual hearings.
The question of whether virtual hearings can be conducted in a manner that can withstand legal challenges was raised in the early days of the pandemic. So far, courts appear unwilling to interfere with a FINRA panel’s decision to hold an arbitration hearing via Zoom. If this trend continues and the COVID-19 pandemic remains with us through November, participants in the FINRA arbitration process should be prepared to participate in virtual hearings well into 2021.
The attorneys at Chilivis Grubman represent broker-dealers and registered representatives in FINRA Arbitration and in government and regulatory investigations. If you need assistance with such a matter, please contact us today.