Neutral Profile



  • Retired Federal Magistrate Judge
  • Based in San Diego, available Nationwide
  • Mediation Only


Judge Papas brings the "pro" to professional. A former Federal Magistrate Judge for more than 18 years and now enjoying his encore mediation career since 2009, Judge Papas brings unparalleled judicial and private sector experience to each mediation; which is why, in his first year of private mediation, and every year since selections have been made, he has been chosen by the Daily Journal and his peers as a Top 50 Neutral in California, has joined the ranks of Super Lawyers and in 2014 was inducted into the International Academy of Mediators.

Those experiencing one of his thousands of mediations uniformly remark about his unpretentious and engaging yet businesslike personality, meticulous and thorough preparation, relentless work ethic, limitless patience and extraordinary passion for helping parties develop the necessary trust and framework to reach closure. From his groundbreaking practice of conducting Pre-Mediation Conferences (PMCs), to preparation of final settlement documentation and OBTWs (ask him), Judge Papas appreciates and takes into account the emotional, physical and economic impact of litigation on each party. He has used his broad private practice and public servant experience to help influence parties and find closure across the spectrum of disputes, including straightforward matters and those involving the most highly confidential and sensitive issues.

Among his many cases, he has helped parties find closure in the Chapter 11 San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese priest abuse cases (, multi-party claims against the Coast Guard and United States arising out of catastrophic injuries and death at the annual San Diego Bay Parade of Lights (, claims against the City of San Diego, SD Padres, SD Chargers and others regarding ADA claims against Qualcomm Stadium (, City of San Diego/DeAnza mobile residence multi-party (230 claimants) and class action cases (, the sad chapters resolving civil claims surrounding the historic Stephanie Crowe murder (, the tragic 1983 excessive force/wrongful death case against Orange County arising from police shooting (, and Qui Tam claims involving a 14 year relationship between the City of San Diego and Rural/Metro, its emergency medical services provider ( In addition, as a private mediator he has handled hundreds of highly confidential/sensitive matters, class actions and multi-party complex matters as well as more than 200 employment related matters.

Judge Papas is an eternal optimist and believes every case can and should settle through mediation. One attorney who has frequently utilized his skills echoes what so many others say, "Judge Papas is not just a great mediator but an exceptional human being. He is always thoroughly prepared as he makes it his mission to resolve every case with the same enthusiasm and tenacity as he did his last. His willingness to prepare and learn even the most complex subject matter is exemplary. He is my mediator of choice."

Practice Areas

Hobbies & Interests

Judge Papas and his wife are travel enthusiasts. They visit their son in New York, their daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren in San Francisco, and take cruises to many foreign ports and exotic locations. The Judge also plays golf and is a fan of most other sports.


"Magistrate Papas is one of my go-to mediators. He’s pleasant, thoroughly prepared and has a thoughtful approach based on the issues and dynamic. Importantly, he brings credibility given his breadth of mediation and settlement experience. "
- Attorney on a legally complex Professional Malpractice matter

"Judge Papas is simply outstanding as a mediator. His commitment and devotion to keeping the discussion going are extraordinary."
- Shareholder and President of a Real Property Law Firm in San Diego

"Did enough work coming into the mediation to understand the unusual legal issues. Kept us at the table until enough money was on the table so that the parties were able to resolve the case. "
- Attorney on a Maritime Law case

"Your dogged determination and your relentless attention to detail paved a mediated path to a settlement that I thought might never be achieved. I was astounded by the speed at which you learned the intricacies and the history of this case and were able to cut to the heart of the issues to help guide both parties to an effective solution."
- Client on a Complex Business Dispute

"Judge Papas was a stellar mediator. I would recommend him to anyone seeking a neutral with case experience and sensitivity to issues."
- Attorney on a Commercial Aviation case

"We think Judge Papas is superb."
- Attorney on a General Negligence Matter

"Judge Papas is very effective in explaining the options to the client and evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of their positions."
- Attorney, Solana Beach, California

"Judge Papas is effective, experienced, relaxed, good-natured, persistent, thoughtful, and creative. He is my first choice for any complex case."
- Attorney on a Personal Injury Auto case

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Experience Summary

Legal Career

  • United States Magistrate Judge, Southern District of California (1991-2009); Presiding Judge (2002-2007)
  • Law Offices of Leo S. Papas, APC, Civil Litigation (1977-1991)
  • Hervey, Mitchell, Ashworth & Keeney, Civil Litigation (1974-1977)
  • United States Marine Corps (1969-1975), Captain, Office of Staff Judge Advocate (1969-1974) Major VTU (1974-1975)

Education & Professional Affiliations

  • J.D., Drake University Law School (1969)
  • B.A., University of Nebraska & Northwest Missouri State University (1966)
  • San Diego Inn of Court, Board of Directors (2007-2015)
  • San Diego County Bar Association, Judicial Advisor to Ethics Committee (2003-2015)
  • National College of District Attorneys (1971)
  • Naval Justice School (1970)
  • International Academy of Mediators, Distinguished Fellow (2014-2019)
  • Federal Judicial Center Mediation Skills Program for US Magistrate Judges (1999)
  • Untied States Arbitration & Mediation Training (1989)
  • Intellectual Property Workshop, UC Berkeley, Berkeley Center for Law & Technology (2008)

Achievements & Awards

  • Distinguished Fellow, International Academy of Mediators (2014-present)
  • Los Angeles Magazine "Super Lawyer" - Alternative Dispute Resolution (2012-2017)
  • Thompson Reuters "Super Lawyer" - Alternative Dispute Resolution (2010-Present)
  • Daily Journal Top 50 Neutral in California (Since 2010)
  • Advisor/Trainer, India & Turkey Court/Government Mediation Programs (2007-2008)
  • Consumer Attorneys of San Diego Co-Judge of the Year (2007)
  • Athletic Hall of Fame, Washington High School (2006)
  • San Diego Bar Association, Outstanding Jurist of the Year (2003)
  • United States Marine Corps, Leadership Award (1970)

Legal Experience

  • Employment
  • Insurance
  • Consumer Class Actions
  • Business
  • Professional Liability
  • Personal Injury
  • Real Property
  • Public Entities
  • Federal Claims
  • Professional Liability
  • Qui Tam
  • IP
  • Jones Act/Maritime

Representative Case Information

Recent Representative Cases



  • ADA; Fair Housing Act; US Constitution; claimed discriminatory conduct against multiple group residential/sober living homes by City in violation of federal law; multiple parties and sessions (6+mos); complex issues
  • ADA consumer class action arising from issues of disabled access to Fly Away facility and transportation services to/from LAX; injunctive relief
  • ADA consumer class action by disabled re access to public facilities and events; multi-party/issues; multi-session (5 years); injunctive relief, damages and attorney fees; complex legal and remediation issues; involved issues surrounding 2003 Super Bowl
  • ADA class action centered on national chain failing to accommodate employees disabilities
  • ADA class action involving disability access to facilities of major hotel chain

Complex Commercial

  • Claims in multiple states/venues involving disputed business/partnership status and dissolution over >20 year relationship; involved significant IP and complex legal/fact/tax issues
  • Trustee in bankruptcy suit against bank for conversion of estate assets; complex factual and legal issues regarding loans and secured financing
  • Tri-mediation of Federal case involving Lanham Act, False Advertising, Unfair Competition with sanctions of parties in excess of $4M, overlays of defamation, terminating sanctions, multiple carrier coverage issues, claims of insurance bad faith, attorney malpractice, and insolvency.

Consumer Class Action

  • Consumer class action challenging service tax by City on mobile devices; Multi-session; complex issues; seven figures including tax relief
  • Two class actions involving two different but related claims of breach of fiduciary duty and negligent/intentional misrepresentation in curriculum at higher educational institution. Multiple parties and sessions; complex primary and excess coverage, factual and legal issues; involved multiple layers of coverage, consent and eroding policy concerns.
  • Multi-state class action -- Claims that defendant company operated in multiple states as collection services partner in violation of states' collection and property management laws; tax laws and multiple insurance coverage issues; multiple sessions over extended time period; jurisdictional and venue issues;


  • Breach of contract; 8 figure post-judgment resolution reinstating original contract; complex legal/appellate and technology issues; multi-session (9 months)
  • Resolution of claims among multiple family members related to interpleader of insurance death benefits
  • Dispute between religious organizations over bequest of personal and real property
  • Commercial lease dispute between landlord and major tenant; lease terms; rent; tenant improvement allowances; deferred maintenance and capital improvements for commercial center
  • Landmark conflict of interest and duty of loyalty case that was decided by CA Supreme Court (and will be the subject of many law schools and MCLE educational programs) and led to confidential mediation which resulted in confidential settlement before trial.
  • Bankruptcy case involving a major national bank that was found to be in violation of bankruptcy court automatic stay order, and sanctioned $45M after trial with distribution of ordered sanctions to plaintiffs as well as each related school. Bankruptcy order led to mediation resolving claims of all interested parties.


  • Mediation of multi-national and multi-party claims of defamation, contractual and real estate disputes involving years of litigation. Mediation took place over several years and multiple sessions.


  • Bankruptcy adversary proceeding involving fraudulent transfers, preferential transfers, breach of contract, negligence and breach of fiduciary duty
  • Chapter 11 issues involving multiple entities, developments, lenders and investors; complex and extended time, financial, legal and factual issues; developments covered decades; multiple sessions over several years
  • Claims by trustee in bankruptcy against debtor for misuse of estate assets
  • Bank failure resulting in litigation in and out of bankruptcy; shareholder derivative suits/trustee recapture/preference claims against professionals/individuals/businesses/insurance companies; professional liability claims against attorneys/accountants; complex federal/state statutory legal and factual issues; coordinating in excess of 40 attorneys


Construction Defects

  • Claims of construction defects arising from remodel of multi-million dollar residence; multi-party, issues and complex factual and legal disputes with significant coverage claims


Whistleblower Wrongful Term

  • Qui Tam/False Claims Act; claims against national company alleging false claims for payment; multiple parties; complex issues

Wrongful Termination

  • HUNDREDS OF CASES in the last six years involving the full spectrum of employment related Federal/State wrongful termination claims: FEHA; ADA; qui tam; sexual harassment; failure to accommodate; failure to engage in interactive process; pregnancy; family leave; retaliation; wages; individual PAGA and virtually every other category of employment case


Environmental Issues

  • Environmental claims; public tidelands lease terms and conditions; multi-party/issues
  • Overall dealt with land use issues, hazardous/toxic waste sites, inverse condemnation related to methane gas underground migration, hazardous waste remediation projects including extraction systems, regional water quality control boards, Miller Act and mechanic’s lien cases, construction and development projects, construction defect matters involving a myriad of problems and solutions including water issues, but no specific single-issue sustainable groundwater rights claims while on the bench and as a mediator. Also read materials on groundwater rights issues and understand the relationships between local, regional and state/federal agencies.

Govt./Public Agency


  • Qui Tam claims of diversion of public funds; multi-session (1+ year); multi-party; complex forensic accounting issues


Bad Faith

  • Insurance bad faith claims regarding indemnity by plaintiff to third party arising from different interpretation of policy provisions; multiple parties; complex and multiple coverage and legal issues


  • Claims against insurance company arising out of wild fires and partial destruction of property; coverage and additional insured issues; complex factual and legal disputes
  • Worker's Compensation issues involving claims against 12 entities, Letters of Credit, and seven-figure claims.

Professional Malpractice

Medical Mal Dental

  • Claim for negligent dental treatment during routine procedure; multiple sessions; difficult consent and insurance issues

Professional Malpractice Legal

  • Complex multi-plaintiff (35)/defendant (7) entities and multiple individual defendant parties; investment/development/fund control issues; complex professional liability and insurance coverage issues; multiple sessions over 1 year
  • Claims of attorney conflict and breach of fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty; bad faith claims and insurance coverage issues; multiple sessions plus separate conferences
  • Claims by client against attorney for negligent legal and tax advice regarding investment decisions.

Real Estate

Eminent Domain

  • Inverse condemnation arising from subsidence of shoreline; multiple sessions and parties

Home Owners Association

  • Pre-filing mediation regarding allocation of remediation fund for repairs to commercial and residential condominiums; multiple parties and sessions with complex factual and construction issues

Real Property

  • Class action by mobile home residents arising from efforts by City to evict occupants; claims versus the City for violations of the California Mobile Residency Law; multiple post-trial sessions; multiple and complex legal and insurance coverage issues
  • Multi-party and HOA dispute over repairs/maintenance and responsibilities for same in commercial and residential development; multiple sessions over more than one year; complex individual and HOA issues; complex factual and real property questions; significant insurance coverage issues
  • Suit to establish lien rights and priority regarding refinance of purchase money loan; complex legal issues; detailed factual events


  • Claim for damages for breach of contract and fraud arising out of loan modification and representations regarding trustee sale; complex legal and factual issues surrounding foreclosures


Catastrophic Injury

  • Catastrophic injuries to 5 passengers in military helicopter which collided with power lines; multi-party; multi-session (over 1 year); multi-group/separate sessions; complex flight engineering and medical issues
  • Catastrophic injury including brain trauma to mid-30s professional whose car was t-boned at 40+mph by company employee not properly medicated

Civil Rights

  • Historic civil rights case against police officers and cities arising from a well known murder case; high profile/publicity; multi-party; multi-session; complex issues
  • Civil Rights (1983) excessive force; Officer involved shooting of plaintiff after high speed auto/foot chase; plaintiff is C-5 Asia A quadriplegic requiring life care plan; plaintiff also charged with multiple felonies and convicted of evading law enforcement

Mass Torts

  • Mass tort/consumer claims of injury and property damages against City by individual residents of multi-party (350 plaintiffs); multi-issues/sessions; complex issues; insurance coverage issues

Personal Injury

  • Claims of personal injury to minor resulting in 7 figure settlement.

PI Auto

  • Catastrophic injury of minor struck by car driven by company employee; life care plan with special needs trust and structure

PI Sexual Molestation

  • Allegations of personal injury/sexual molestation/child abuse during school
  • Personal injury/sexual molestation claims against employer over an extended period of time; significant insurance issues
  • Personal injury/sexual assault allegations against students in educational institution; insurance coverage issues
  • Multiple mediations on different cases of sexual abuse of a minor resulting in 7-figure settlements.

Premises Liability

  • Trip and fall resulting in CRPS. This was a multi-seven figure settlement.
  • Broken ankle leads to CRPS and multi-seven figure settlement.

Product Liability

  • Claims of personal injury; product liability; fraud; breach of fiduciary duty; conspiracy claims against doctor, UC Regents and medical device provider; multi-session/parties; case settled with doctor and UC Regents; seven figures

Wrongful Death

  • Civil Rights (1983) excessive force; negligence; wrongful death & Dillon claims; law enforcement shooting witnessed by surviving minor children; joint powers
  • Resolution of multiple claims related to interpleader of insurance death benefits. Claims involved minors and adults involved in a catastrophic auto/truck high speed collision.
  • Claims of negligence and wrongful death against doctor and medical facility related to treatment of patient in emergency care
  • Claims against doctor for negligence during routine surgery leading to death of patient; significant consent and insurance disputes