Harold "Peter" Smith, Esq.


Peter Smith, Esq. handles disputes spanning the spectrum of civil litigation, and is particularly adept at dealing with matters rendered complex through the prevalence of high emotions, personal pride, preconceptions, complications regarding expression and content, uncertainty about intellectual property, and policy or political underpinnings. He is able to break through the barriers to resolution created by this array of competing forces and to reach practical solutions through a delicate combination of patience, understanding, balance, fairness, and humor. Never one to simply find the “middle ground,” he does not hesitate to reach or push for a solution that may be closer to one or the other position if the circumstances merit such a resolution.

Mr. Smith’s philosophy is informed by decades of work as an attorney, mediator, and member of private, public, and non-profit governing bodies. As an attorney, his practice was to secure an early resolution through collaboration with his clients and the opposition prior to incurring large attorney fees. As a mediator, his practice has included pre-litigation mediation (primarily through the California Association of Realtors and C-level employment terminations), court-ordered early mediation (as a panelist for the Federal District Court for Northern California), and as a settlement mentor and court mediator for cases closer to the day of trial. Most importantly, it is his work bringing colleagues to consensus on private and sometimes very public disputes. Whether it is a boardroom dispute for a private company, a difficult decision to terminate a high-level employee, or a public or quasi-public issue of broad interest, Mr. Smith has decades of experience and a style that combines listening, consensus building, and thoughtful resolution.


Mr. Smith breaks down the mediation process into component parts, the nature of which is driven by the situation. Initially, and prior to the mediation itself, he conducts an extensive understanding of the underlying facts, law, motivations, and preconceptions. In doing so, he draws in equal parts on the materials and discussions presented to him and on his own personal experiences at bringing disputes to resolution. In the mediation session itself, the initial goal is two-fold: making sure that he has an accurate understanding of the events and emotions underpinning the dispute and giving the litigants a compelling feeling that they have been heard. Depending on what arises during this initial phase, he shifts into a problem-solving mode, always in collaboration with the parties and their attorneys. Finally, if not resolved and only if asked, he moves to an evaluative mode, advising all parties where he believes, as the neutral, that the resolution should be. This methodology can, in some instances, lead to a conclusion in relatively short order (as in most Americans with Disabilities Act and real estate cases). In others, such as business dissolutions or internet content cases, a conclusion may take several sessions over days or even weeks. Every mediation is different in one respect or another, so these components may shift or other strategies may be employed depending on circumstances.


Arbitration presents a slightly different challenge to the neutral. The skills required of an arbitrator are several-fold. First, the arbitrator must be able to determine the “signal from the noise.” Second, the arbitrator must hear the issues accurately and convey that all parties have been heard. Third, the arbitrator must understand all inherent bias, including his own, to ensure that any decision is not influenced by improper preconceptions. Finally, an arbitrator must be able to make a decision – one that is fair, balanced, and demonstrates a full understanding of the of the case.

Mr. Smith’s decades of decision making in private, public, and non-profit settings have prepared him for such arbitrations. He is frequently retained as an arbitrator at the conclusion of a mediation where there are some unresolved issues or where disputes over the settlement may arise after the agreement is reached.


Prior to becoming a full-time mediator, Mr. Smith had a 35-year career as a litigator and trial lawyer.

He began his career as Deputy District Attorney for the County of Alameda, where he tried more than 20 jury trials to verdict and well over 500 preliminary hearings and court trials on a wide variety of criminal matters.

He then joined and formed a series of civil litigation firms, working as a trial lawyer on a wide range of civil litigation matters, with particular emphasis in the fields of business, corporate and shareholder disputes, facilities development and land use, construction, real estate, adjoining property owner disputes (property lines, easements, encroachments, and views), corporate governance, and C-level employment termination. He also handled matters involving internet content, particularly under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and the Right to be Forgotten (EU), and freedom of expression, particularly concerning political and religious matters.

Although most matters resolved, he has conducted numerous jury trials and complex commercial arbitrations on this variety of matters.

Mr. Smith has been awarded the prestigious designation of Northern California Super Lawyer in business litigation by Thomson/West Publishing, an accolade reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the jurisdiction.


Mr. Smith received his A.B. in Economics from Harvard University in 1982 and his J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1986.

He is a member of the State Bar of California, The Mediation Society, the United States District Court Mediation Panel for the Northern District of California, and the Mediation Panel for the California Association of Realtors, and the neutrals panels for counties across the State of California.

He is admitted to practice before all trial and appellate courts in the State of California and the United States District Courts for the Northern, Central, and Eastern Federal Districts of California.

Mr. Smith has served as a faculty member for the Stanford Law School Advocacy Skills Workshop and as a panelist and commentator on transit-oriented development, green technology, planning, and economic development issues.


  • Real Estate
  • Business & Commercial
  • Facilities Development and Land Use
  • Construction
  • Employment, including Arbitrations
  • Corporate Governance
  • Internet Content


  • University Of San Francisco School of Law, J.D. May 1986.
  • Harvard University, A.B., Economics, June 1982.
  • Head Royce School, High School Diploma, June 1978


  • Northern California Super Lawyers. 2014-2022.
  • The Mediation Society of Northern California. 2016-Present, Board of Directors, 2018- 2021.


  • ADR Services, Inc., 2021 – Present
  • Smith Mediation and Arbitration, 2019-2021
  • Smith, LLP, Partner, 2014-2018
  • Dhillon & Smith LLP, Partner, 2006-2014
  • Law Offices of Harold P. Smith, Partner, 2002-2006
  • Stein, Smith, Rudser & Cohen, LLP, Partner, 1997-2002
  • Stein & Smith, Partner, 1992-1997
  • Birka-White & Stein, Senior Associate, 1989-1992
  • California State Legislature, Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Counsel, 1989
  • Alameda County District Attorney, Deputy District Attorney, 1986-1989
  • Alameda County District Attorney, Certified Law Clerk, 1985-1986


  • Assigned as Arbitrator by Alameda County Superior Court.
  • Arbitration training by Kaiser Permanente’ s Office of the Independent Administrator
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Certificate of Completion, Mediation Training Program, 2011. Mediation Panel Member, 2011-Present.
  • U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Certificate of Completion, ADA Access Training Program, 2018. ADA Mediation Panel Member, 2018-Present.
  • Alameda County Superior Court, Court Mediation Program, Mediator, 2021-Present.
  • Contra Costa Superior Court, Discovery Facilitator, Settlement Mentor, 2017-Present.
  • California Association of Realtors, Mediator, 2018-Present.
  • University of California, Berkeley, Certificate of Participation in Mediation and Conflict Resolution, Ron Kelly (40 hours) 2001.
  • Harvard University, Getting to Yes – Harvard Negotiation Project, Roger Fisher, 1981.


  • Planning Commission, City of Oakland, Chair and Commissioner of seven-member panel, 1991-1996
  • General Plan Congress, City of Oakland, Chair of 32-member citizen panel charged with writing the Oakland General Plan, 1993-1998
  • The Head Royce School, Board of Trustees, Board Member on and off 1988 to present, current Board Chair.
  • Claremont Country Club, Board of Directors, 2009 – 2013, Club President.
  • Davis Street Family Resource Center, Board Member, 2017-2019
  • Youth Tennis Advantage, Board Member, 2014-2019
  • Estuary Plan Advisory Committee, Oakland, Member, 1997-1998
  • Task Force on Community Restoration & Emergency Preparedness following the 1991 Oakland Hills Fire, Oakland, 1991-1992.
  • Oakland Commerce Corporation, Board of Directors, 1992-2000
  • Oakland Coliseum Redevelopment Advisory Committee, 1992-2000.
  • Metropolitan Task Force on Downtown Redevelopment, 1992-1993
  • Alameda Contra Costa Transit District, Member of the Board of Directors, 1986-1988
  • The Head Royce School, Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, 1991

Representative Cases


  • Negotiated purchase of recycling business by employees.
  • Defended $6,000,000 business fraud case at summary judgment resulting in a settlement with a positive recovery for client.
  • Successfully prosecuted claims at jury trial regarding the dissolution of a business and defended against claims of corporate fraud.
  • Resolved board election disputes against a California non-profit Corporation concerning the governance of radio stations.
  • Successfully settled pre-litigation dispute between new media service provider and client over reimbursement of fees paid.
  • Successfully settled lemon law dispute.
  • Handled shareholder challenge alleging fraud and breach of fiduciary duty by corporate directors.
  • Handled settlement arising from the dissolution of a 15 year business relationship involving both US and Canadian actions.
  • Settled dispute between owners of restaurant.
  • Successfully settled commercial claim in a sale of goods case involving alternative energy provider.
  • Successfully settled commercial claim regarding lease, lease termination and right of first offer.
  • Successfully settled a business partition between LLC members.
  • Settled lease termination dispute between church and tenant.
  • Settled corporate governance issue with a non-profit communications organization relating to rank choice voting elections of board members.
  • Settled seven nonpayment claims relating to tenant improvements for a retail store.
  • Settled business dispute between company and departing joint venture partner.
  • Mediated corporate ownership dispute regarding Community Choice Aggregation firm
  • Settled business and real estate dispute between partners in a cannabis business in Humboldt county.

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  • Handled construction defect claim resulting in a positive net recovery by General Contractor after contributions from subcontractors.
  • Entitled development of 532 unit apartment in downtown Oakland and assisted in construction related issues including abatement of construction related nuisance.
  • Handled construction defect and mold case on behalf of homeowner.
  • Settled $2,000,000 design defect suit regarding mixed use and multi-family development in Burbank, California.
  • Successfully settled pre-litigation dispute between cabinet maker and homeowner over a kitchen remodel
  • Settled payment and subcontractor defect claims regarding two new restaurants.

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  • Successfully settled case regarding the termination of a real estate purchase contract after lender refused to agree to assign the loan to buyer and the subsequent sale of the property to a third party while still in contract to the erstwhile buyer/claimant.
  • Successfully settled partition action of real property pursuant to a stipulation for sale of the property.
  • Handled two coordinated real estate fraud cases in trial and arbitration with claims totaling $10 million.
  • Entitled development of an award-winning new dormitory for a private college in Oakland.
  • Entitled development of 25-story office building in downtown Oakland.
  • Entitled development of 9-story office building in downtown Oakland and assisted in construction, tax, and exaction issues.
  • Obtained $22,500,000 settlement for real estate dispute concerning an option to purchase land
  • Secured a settlement in real estate fraud claim.
  • Successfully settled a corporate and real estate dispute pursuant to a mediator’s compromise.
  • Settled dispute between partner and former partner in real estate dispute.
  • Successfully settled pre-litigation claim for return of liquidated damages after termination of real estate purchase contract.
  • Successfully guided non-profit community health facility through complex real estate transaction involving cannabis dispensary.
  • Conducted pre-litigation mediation of a real estate non-disclosure suit involving a boat dock resulting in no action being filed.
  • Assisted parties regarding reports required under purchase contract and interpretation of the same.
  • Settled neighbor dispute regarding encroaching conditions.
  • Mediated pre-litigation claims of non-disclosure of defects and rodent activity.
  • Conducted pre-litigation mediation of a real estate non-disclosure suit involving non-disclosure of dying trees resulting in no action being filed.
  • Conducted pre-litigation mediation of a real estate non-disclosure suit involving non-disclosure of rotted deck.
  • Mediated a pre-litigation rescission of purchase of real estate.
  • Settled disputed claims regarding tree removal and view claims.
  • Assisted parties in reaching an agreement for a pathway to resolve disclosure dispute through rescission of purchase contract pre-litigation.
  • Mediated partial resolution of issues relating to non-disclosure of unpermitted construction pre-litigation.
  • Resolved non-disclosure claim for home in Venice, California.
  • Settled dispute regarding non-disclosure and construction defects in home that had been flipped by seller. Later retained as mediator by seller in dispute with contractor.
  • Settled dispute regarding removal of jointly owned tree.
  • Assisted parties in a dispute regarding custom construction of home for sale in Venice, California.
  • Settled landlord-tenant dispute regarding lease conformance and obligation to pay rent during Covid-19 shutdown.
  • Mediated disputes relating to whether a property had approved plans for the construction of a new residence.
  • Mediated dispute over non-disclosure of foundation issues.
  • Mediated numerous claims regarding real estate development.
  • Mediated pre-litigation evaluation of claims relating to non-disclosure of existing defects in sale of home.
  • Mediated pre-litigation evaluation of claims regarding non-disclosure and the addition of new parties.
  • Mediated pre-litigation evaluation of claims to earnest money deposit following cancellation of real estate purchase contract.
  • Settled through rescission of a real estate purchase for a development opportunity where sewer connection problem and cost were not disclosed.

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  • Assisted in separate negotiations with insurance company, landlord, City, contractor, restaurant equipment supplier and others following a fire that destroyed an ice cream manufacturing and restaurant/parlor facility that resulted in the successful reopening of the business.
  • Settled fire and nuisance claim.


  • Mediated and settled a wage and hour claim pre arbitration pertaining to C-level employees at a technology startup.
  • Available for arbitrations, including consumer arbitrations.
  • Secured a settlement for a terminated Chief Executive Officer of technology company.
  • Successfully settled confidential pre-litigation separation of a C-level employee.


  • Assisted in litigating product liability litigation regarding defective ABS drain, waste and vent pipe for total claims exceeding $100,000,000.
  • Handled matter involving defective ion pumps supplied to a klystron manufacturer for installation in a linear accelerator resulting in settlement for the full claim amount.


  • Settled matter involving disability access relating to a motel.
  • Settled matter involving disability access relating to a restaurant.
  • Settled matter involving disability access relating to bowling alley parking spaces.
  • Settled matter involving disability access relating to gas station and convenience store.
  • Settled matter involving disability access relating to parking and access to pharmacy.
  • Settled matter involving disability access relating to access to convenience store.

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  • Successfully settled cases filed in the District Court and European Courts arising the suspension of an individual from a social media platform for violation of the platform’s terms of service and rules regarding Covid involving complex issues relating to politics, pandemic, free expression, defamation, access to information, privacy rights, internet safety, and corporate rights to expression.


“After many rounds of back-and-forth of selecting a mediator, the parties finally accepted Peter Smith, Esq. to mediate an earnest money deposit dispute between them.  Mr. Smith successfully resolved the dispute in a contentious situation, involving culturally diverse parties. During the proceeding, he was respectful and paid close attention to the parties’ concerns, whether such were germane to the dispute at hand.  In his doing so, the principals felt that they were heard, which significantly contributed to the ultimate resolution.  After the proceeding, Mr. Smith was diligent in his follow-ups to ensure no loose ends would derail the settlement. Having mostly mediated with retired judges, I am pleasantly surprised and impressed by Mr. Smith’s skills and diligence and would not hesitate to recommend him to my other real estate and construction clients to help settle disputes.”

“Peter is tireless, yet easy to work with.  He takes time to understand both sides’ positions and their underlying motivations. He also continues to explore solutions even when it appears the parties are at an impasse. We would work with him again.”

“Peter’s demeanor and extensive experience are an excellent combination. He’s a good listener, very level headed and extremely knowledgeable in real estate law and litigation. But he’s not a guy that’s spouting off about how knowledgeable he is. He’s a guy that sits there, and he listens, and he asks questions. In order to get things resolved, you have to first find out where the sides are coming from, where the people are coming from, and that he does very well. Disputants feel comfortable with Peter, which helps a great deal. People trust him. It’s hard to go from the plaintiff to various defendants and communicate with them all and then also have trust with all of them. Usually, you end up with a situation where one party trusts you, and the rest of the parties think you’re against them. But Peter really has an ability to work with all the various parties and have them all trust him, and because of that, they all keep going along with him to try and get things resolved.”

“Peter connects quickly with clients. He has a knack for crafting successful mediator’s proposals. The best settlements are when no one is happy. If one side is happy and the other isn’t, then it’s not a good settlement. Both sides have to give a little bit, and Peter’s not only good at getting people to an agreement, but he also follows through, and when he does use a mediator’s proposal, it’s usually accepted. He usually finds a space where both sides can agree. They may not like the number, or they may not like the terms, but they can see the wisdom in the proposal.”

“While his easy going demeanor endeared him quickly with the disputants, Peter wasn’t shy about getting tough when it was needed. Peter was firm and able to twist arms, but he did it in a palatable way. Sometimes you get mediators who will deliver the bad news, but they’ll piss off everybody at the same time, which doesn’t necessarily help out. And then you’ve got a lot of mediators that are kind of everybody’s best friend, but they’re not effective at telling the other side, or your client, ‘Look, you’ve got some real problems here.’ Sometimes you need somebody that bangs people’s heads together. And Peter was kind of in the middle on that, which I thought was really good.”