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Special Master

A professional & fair court case supervision on to reassure that both parties follow the procedures

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Special Master FAQ

The role of the special master, who is frequently but not necessarily an attorney, is to supervise those falling under the order of the court to ensure that the court order is being followed and to report on the activities of the entity being supervised in a timely matter to the judge or the judge’s designated representatives. Special masters have been controversial in some cases, and they are often cited by critics as an example of judicial supremacy over the other branches of government. For example, they have at times ordered the expenditure of funds over and above the amount appropriated by a legislative body for the remediation of the situation being examined. Their powers have generally been found to be valid and their remedies upheld by US courts.

The US Supreme Court will normally assign original jurisdiction disputes (cases such as disputes between states that are first heard at the Supreme Court level) to a special master to conduct what amounts to a trial court (the taking of evidence and a ruling). The Supreme Court can then assess the master’s ruling much as a normal appeals court would, rather than conduct the trial itself. That is necessary as trials in the US almost always involve live testimony, and it would be too unwieldy for nine justices to rule on evidentiary objections in real time.

In United States Federal Courts, a special master is appointed under Rule 53[2] of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 53 allows for a special master to be appointed only if one of the following exists: (1) the parties consent to the appointment, (2) hold trial without a jury or make recommended findings of fact where there is some exceptional condition or accounting or difficult computation of damages, or (3) address pre-trial or post-trial matters that cannot be effectively and timely addressed by a judge or magistrate judge.

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