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The Benefit of A Special Magistrate In Complex And Contentious Litigation Cases

by | Aug 25, 2021

There is nothing more draining and devasting than complex or contentious litigation. Complex and contentious litigation cases, whether it is in family or civil court are identified by certain characteristics. Some of those characteristics include (i) multiparty litigation; (ii) significant and lengthy discovery disputes; (iii) every single issue, whether procedural or substantive is heavily disputed; (iv) mental health disorders or drug use indicators are present; (v) clash in personalities and egos; (v) the case is drawn out for a substantial amount of time or as the proverbial saying goes, the parties will argue about anything even the color of the sky. 

Another characteristic of these types of cases is that they require a significant amount of the court’s time more than other cases and usually require experts and other professionals to assist the parties in the litigation.  For this reason, often complex and contentious cases have their own special divisions such as the unified family court or complex business or litigation divisions for civil cases.  Where not all the characteristics are needed for a case to be considered complex or contentious, the presence of at least one of these characteristics in a case usually warrants the identification of the case as either complex or contentious case.

What is a Special Magistrate and what can they do?

A Special Magistrate, which is also known as a Special Master, though the term has been official abandoned in Florida, is a private judge that is appointed by agreement of the parties to make rulings on some or all of the parties’ case, subject to the Court’s oversight if required by law.  Given how overburdened Florida Courts are (including the special divisions for which these cases were made for), a Special Magistrate can play an important role in increasing the efficiency of the civil and family law court process. 

Special Magistrates often look and behave as a Judge would, however, their power is limited to the authority granted to them by the court and the parties.  That being said, once a Special Magistrate is involved, they become the eyes and ears of the Court as to the subject matter in which they have been appointed.

Special Magistrates are often tasked with addressing discovery matters, reviewing evidence, hearing motions, facilitating settlement, and make recommendations to the Court thereby relieving the litigants and the Court from having to wait long periods of time before their motion or issue can be heard. In many cases, this can mean avoiding anywhere from a three to seven-month long waiting period before the Judge on your case can hear a motion or a discovery dispute.

Proceedings involving a Special Magistrate are typically more relaxed and less formal than a traditional Court hearing where you are before the presiding Judge. This does not mean that there are no rules of evidence or a “wild west” approach to fundamental judicial obligations, but there is more flexibility and more of a collaborative approach with a Special Magistrate involved.

When the Special Magistrate issues their report and recommendations, the presiding Judge must sign on it for it to become an enforceable Order of the Court. If a party disagrees with the Special Magistrate’s report, they have a limited amount of time in which they can file objections to the report to be considered by the Judge.

A Special Magistrate is required to be impartial with absolutely no existing outside relationship with the parties that would influence their involvement.

Another example of how a Special Magistrate can benefit a complex or contentious case is by also being a gatekeeper for the court and parties to make sure the parties are in compliance with the Rules of Civil or Family Law Procedure. For instance, the Special Magistrate can ensure that each party is producing the documents which are needed or required from each other therein cutting through the drama of “I already gave you the documents” and of course the other side says, “no you did not”.  The Special Magistrate will perform his or her own inventory and evaluation of what has been produced and make a ruling as to whether either party has acted in bad faith and potentially whether the party that acted in bad faith should be required to pay for the other party’s attorney fees in the matter. 

To summarize, a Special Magistrate is a great option in that one of their primary functions is to expedite a case or an issue, therein providing parties greater access to the Court and a more efficient outcome for the parties. A Special Magistrate is not needed in every case, however, a Special Magistrate is particularly well suited for complex or contentious litigation. 

     At Campbell Law Group we have found Special Magistrates to be an invaluable tool in improving the efficiency and fairness of some of our civil and family law cases. As such, given our unique experience with complex business and family law cases, our firm offers Special Magistrate services for those types of cases should attorneys or litigants believe that one is needed for their case. If you would like more information regarding our Special Magistrate services, our firm offers in-person and virtual consults, please feel free to call our office at 305-460-0145 or to schedule a consult here. 

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