Tuesday, October 01, 2013
Courts - Increasing use of special masters by federal judges
A few quotes from Dionne Searcey's long Sunday story in the $$ WSJ, the headline was "Judges Outsource Workloads as Cases Get More Complex: Amid Tight Courtroom Budgets, Special Masters Help Keep Litigation on Track."
Judges typically have appointed special masters to broker settlement negotiations or monitor enforcement of consent decrees in school-desegregation cases. But contending with tight courtroom budgets and facing increasingly complex patent litigation or product-liability disputes that can involve hundreds—even thousands—of plaintiffs, judges increasingly are farming out other aspects of litigation to special masters as well.
A special master's responsibility can be broad, with duties set out by court order, though the judge has ultimate authority and can overrule a special master's decisions. Special masters' fees are paid for by the parties, who generally want to expedite litigation, ultimately saving on legal fees and other costs.
Comprehensive data on the numbers of special masters is scant. But lawyers and judges say the appointments are becoming staples of consolidated cases involving plaintiffs from multiple jurisdictions and high-stakes intellectual-property cases.
That presents a business opportunity for attorneys, mediators and retired judges. Rates range roughly from $300 to $1,000 an hour, negotiated by the parties and the court, and can be based on such factors as the special master's experience and private billing rate and the nature of the case.
"If you get one hairy, complicated case, that takes a lot of attention," says David Cohen, a lawyer whose special-master résumé includes a case that lasted several years and involved 12,000 plaintiffs. "You need someone who is devoted to that case alone."
Some litigation is so complex that judges appoint more than one special master. In a Louisiana federal case—in which nearly 3,000 plaintiffs sued the makers of diabetic drug Actos, saying it made them susceptible to bladder cancer—the judge appointed three special masters. One is the overall case manager, another sorts out the potentially volatile issue of fees for plaintiffs' lawyers and another helps write orders and handles scheduling issues.
Posted by Marcia Oddi on October 1, 2013 09:21 AM
Posted to Courts in general