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A-Rod suspension puts arbitrators in the spotlight

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The work of arbitrators probably slips the mind of your average American on most days. But every so often arbitrators find themselves part of big-story headlines, often the result of controversy.

Take Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees slugger is appealing a 214-game suspension — which would take him off the field until 2015 — issued earlier this week by Major League Baseball for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs. The appeal allows Rodriguez to continue playing, even as he endures consistent boos from angry fans fed up with doping scandals, until the matter is decided.

Rodriguez's case might represent a scintilla of the overall workload of arbitrators, but Jeff Zaino, vice president of the American Arbitration Association, welcomes the attention anyway.

The New York-based association, which arranges services for individuals who want to settle matters out of court, doesn't handle baseball disputes. Regardless, Zaino said he is often approached by friends asking whether AAA is involved.

"It really does get our name out there, even though my company has been around 88 years," Zaino said.

AAA has a New Jersey office in the Somerset section of Franklin Township, which handles cases in New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia.

Nationwide, Zaino said the group handles 100,000 cases a year under its four divisions: labor, commercial, construction and international. Its labor division has handled sports disputes involving the NFL and NBA players' associations, and the Olympics.

"The beauty of arbitration — and why people go to arbitration — is it provides a private forum, and it's dramatically more cost effective than going to court," Zaino said, adding that the process can be wrapped up in six months, compared with up to two years in a court case.

"In arbitration, you don't need a lawyer," Zaino said. "That can reduce costs, also."

The key difference is arbitration rulings are final and allow no appeal

Zaino said AAA normally will introduce disputing parties to about 15 potential choices for an arbitrator, typically an attorney or expert in a given field, among which both sides find one mutually agreeable choice. Some cases are resolved in as few as 30 days, Zaino said, while a lengthy case might take nine months.

Reporter Tom Zanki is @BizTZanki on Twitter.

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