Celebrating the Distinguished Service of Peter Grilli
By: Kai L. Donner
When reflecting on Peter Grilli and his impact on the field of mediation, Peter’s colleagues use words like pioneer. Leader. Finest in the nation.
Peter, who received his law degree from Georgetown University, was a successful litigator prior to his mediation career in Tampa. He began mediating full time in the early 1990s, providing alternative dispute resolution services to parties, counsel, courts, and the public good. This was long before mediation became a routine part of every civil case.
United States District Judge Steven Merryday played an instrumental role in Peter’s early days as a mediator. Peter applied and interviewed for a magistrate judgeship in the 1990s, and although he did not obtain the position, he strongly impressed the judges of the Middle District of Florida. At the time, the Tampa Division had the largest workload per judge in the United States by a substantial margin—more than twice the workload that each judge has now. As Judge Merryday eloquently put it, a Middle District Judgeship between 1990 and 2000 amounted to “a total commitment to a hopeless battle against an overwhelming workload.”
Following Peter’s application for the judgeship, and in an effort to advance the court’s voluminous docket, Judge Merryday called Peter and asked if he has considered becoming a full-time mediator. At the time, alternate dispute resolution in the Middle District consisted of court-annexed arbitration and summary jury trials, and there were very few full-time mediators in Tampa. Judge Merryday suggested that becoming a full-time mediator would position Peter to receive steady list of mediation assignments from the district judges.
Richard E. Fee, Esq., worked at the office next to Peter when he was just starting his mediation practice. “He immediately impressed me as something of a modern Renaissance man, possessing a serious intellect and a passion for music, history, philosophy, and (of course) the law,” Fee said. Over the next 30 years, they came to know each other better. Fee, who described Peter as a “lifetime learner,” said his passions never ceased.
Peter’s intellect is coupled with a keen wit. Fee commented that, whether used in a professional setting to emphasize a point, or just in friendly banter, Peter’s sense of humor, wry smile, and genuine laugh always stood out. Judge Merryday echoed this point, praising Peter’s “expansive wit and sense of humor.” Longtime friend and fellow mediator Robert M. Daisley, Esq., said he teasingly referred to Peter, who completed his undergraduate studies at Yale College, as a “Yalie” whenever they would banter.
Peter soon found that he was well-suited for life as a mediator. As Judge Merryday aptly put it, “not receiving the magistrate judgeship proved to Peter that sometimes the best things that happen are the result of an unanswered prayer.” Peter prospered as a mediator and became a leader and example among mediators in Florida and in the nation.
Daisley noted the broad reach of Peter’s career. “There are a handful of mediators responsible for developing mediation in Florida to the point where we have become a leader, if not the leader, in mediation around the country and world,” Daisley said. “I put Peter at the top of that short list.”
Christopher Griffin, Esq., another friend and colleague, characterized Peter as a pioneer at the forefront of developing mediation in its early days. At the time, there were very few people who were trained and certified mediators, and Peter’s skill and abilities as a mediator paved the way for the legal community to accept and trust mediation as a valuable legal process. “It was foreign when it started, and you needed people you could trust who could show you that mediation was a worthwhile process,” Griffin said. “Peter was one of the people who showed it could be helpful to the litigation process.”
As a result of Peter’s trailblazing, he shaped the rules and procedures under which mediation operates today. Peter’s colleagues laud his intellect and talent, which allowed him to study mediation and develop it into a profession. Moreover, Peter put substantial resources and effort into case preparation and providing superior service during his career. He mediated an astounding array of civil disputes, ranging in subject matter from intellectual property cases, to insurance, to employment, to medical malpractice, and to constitutional issues.
Although Peter’s success rate speaks for itself, it was not lost on Judge Merryday that many well-known cases that came before his Court were brought to finality with Peter’s assistance. “Peter settled seemingly intractable litigation about desegregating the public schools, in one instance a case that continued from 1964 until Peter achieved a settlement. Peter settled one of the largest False Claims Act actions in the history of the statute (that is, since the Civil War). Peter has settled cases of every size and on every topic, and throughout each mediation, whether successful or unsuccessful, tranquil or turbulent, simple or complex, protracted or brief, Peter was professional, focused, optimistic, encouraging, respectful, creative, and even-handed. In short, Peter was always Peter, no matter what.”
In addition to his success as a mediator, Peter was also a gracious and generous mentor to his peers. Both Daisley and Griffin had used Peter’s mediation services during their litigation careers, and Peter served as a wealth of knowledge and guidance when each pondered taking a similar route. Today, both Griffin and Daisley credit Peter’s instrumental role in helping them develop their own successful, full-time mediation practices. Peter understood that being a mediator is not the same as being a lawyer. To be a successful mediator, pre-eminent mediation skills and a tireless work ethic—as well as legal skills—are absolutely necessary.
“Peter has always been, and continues to be, so generous in sharing with me and other mediators his wealth of mediation experience, knowledge and skill,” said Daisley. “Not a mediation goes by that I do not put into practice something that Peter taught me.”
Most notably, Peter is admired for his impeccable integrity and character. His colleagues said that Peter’s moral compass is, and always has been, set to true north. For this reason, Peter is respected, admired, and loved in the community.
“As Peter’s active participation in mediation closes, he enjoys the respect and esteem of both bench and bar, especially his colleagues who dedicate their practice to mediation,” Judge Merryday remarked. “Also, Peter is owed a debt of gratitude by many litigants whose dispute was resolved efficiently, fairly, and expeditiously by one of Florida’s and the nation’s finest mediators, Peter Grilli.”
The Tampa Bay Chapter of the Federal Bar Association extends its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to Peter Grilli, this year’s recipient of the President’s Distinguished Service Award. On behalf of the entire Tampa Bay Chapter, we congratulate our colleague and friend Peter on his exemplary career and his service to the Middle District of Florida and the practice of law.