The Daily Journal | California Lawyer

Special Masters: When Does it Make Sense and How Do We Get One?

March 12, 2021

By Daniel B. Garrie & Hon. Gail Andler

Over time, disputes have become increasingly more complex. COVID-19 has impacted access to the courts in California and around the nation, while civil caseloads continue to grow and the time to trial grows even longer. Even before the pandemic, the Federal Judicial Caseload Statistical report on the caseload of the federal courts for a 12- month period ending March 31, 2020 showed an increase in civil filings; increase in the percentage of “pending” cases; and a decrease in the percentage of “terminated” cases. As such, the bench and bar are increasingly looking to alternative processes, such as the appointment of special masters, to assist in keeping cases moving along.

Special masters are nominated by counsel or appointed through a court, arbitrator, or other decision-making body with a mandate to carry out some action on its behalf. Typically, the special master makes factual determinations in complicated cases, resolves specific subject matter disputes, serves as a discovery referee, or serves as a forensic neutral.

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