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What is a Special Master?
What’s important to know about it?
In this article, I will break down the meaning of Special Master so you know all there is to know about it!
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Table of Contents
What Is Special Master
In the United States, a special master is someone appointed by the court to carry out a specific action on its behalf.
In other words, a special master is someone that is directed by the court to do something specific on its behalf.
A special master can be appointed to carry out pretty much any task that the court wants to carry out, including reviewing sensitive documents, administering compensation payments, or handling boundary disputes.
In some situations, a court may also appoint a special master to attend the deposition of a witness authorizing the special master to make evidentiary rulings on the spot should the witness refuse to answer questions.
Keep reading as I will further break down the meaning of a special master and tell you how it works.
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Role of A Special Master
The role of a special master is to take certain actions on behalf of the court.
Such actions can be as diverse as the powers given to the court to rule on a case.
Typically, a special master is an attorney but it does not necessarily have to be one.
In federal courts, a judge can appoint a special master under Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in cases where the parties consent, hold a trial without a jury or make recommended findings of fact where there is an exceptional condition, or to address a pre-trial or post-trial matter that the court cannot effectively handle.
The powers given to special masters are generally considered as valid by US courts.
Also, the actions and remedies offered by special masters are considered valid and upheld by the courts.
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Special Master vs Master
What is the difference between a special master and a master?
A special master and master are two roles that should be distinguished.
A special master is a person appointed by the court who is mandated to perform a specific task or given a specific duty.
The special master will perform the task or duty and then report back to the court.
On the other hand, a master is a person appointed to perform investigative work, compile evidence, or gather documents.
The master’s objective is to investigate a particular matter for the court and report on the investigation.
Over the years, the term special master and master has been used when appointing someone purely for investigative matters.
As such, the distinction between a special master and a simple master is becoming less relevant.
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Special Master Example
Let’s look at a few examples of special master appointments to better understand the topic.
In the case U.S. v. Microsoft, the court appointed a special master to advise the court on the technical implication of removing Internet Explorer from the Windows operating system.
Microsoft alleged that by removing Internet Explorer, the operating system slows down and the court wanted the special master to validate that claim.
In the United States, following the seizure of various documents at former president Donald Trump’s estate, the court appointed a special master to review the documents and determine which documents may be protected by privilege or belong to former president Trump.
The special master, in this case, is given the authority to review classified government records that the US Justice Department had seized to ensure that Donald Trump’s rights were protected.
In the Waymo v. Uber case, the court appointed a special master to validate whether or not Uber violated discovery rules by not disclosing the “Richard Jacobs Letter”.
In this case, the role of the special master was to determine if Uber had respected discovery rules in the court proceedings.
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So there you have it folks!
What does special master mean?
In a nutshell, a special master is a person appointed by the court to handle a certain task, carry out a certain order, or act on its behalf.
In the context of a lawsuit, a special master can be appointed to look at the compliance of the parties of discovery rules, validate technical claims made by the parties, or assess whether or not seized documents were protected by the attorney-client privilege.
You can consider a special master to be an independent arbiter appointed by the court to act on its behalf.
The most notable example of the appointment of a special master is in the criminal investigation involving former US President Donald Trump where documents were seized by the FBI from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
Now that you know what a special master means and how it works, good luck with your research!
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