A special master is an individual appointed by the Court to handle one or more aspects of litigation. They were historically utilized by judges to assist with evidence and accounting. They are not mediators or arbitrators, but at times they can also seem to act as such. They are often appointed for a number of reasons: a case is unusually complex and requires more specific attention, a case requires an unusual level of expertise in one or more areas, an individual is needed to evaluate evidence, etc.
In Missouri, the trial court and appellate court have the authority to appoint a special master per Rule 68. A special master is paid by the parties in an amount determined by the Court. For cases tried by a jury, a special master is only permitted when the issues are complicated. For judge-tried cases, a special master is permitted only when there is some “exceptional condition” present. With respect to authority, the Court’s order appointing the master should specify the master’s powers, and particularly what his/her functions and responsibilities are. Among other things, a master may require the production of evidence, rule on the admissibility of evidence, and examine witnesses as would a Court in a judge-tried case.
Based on experience, the appointment of special masters is rare. However, when one is appointed, it does change the dynamic of the case and a careful evaluation needs to be undertaken as to what should be done different (if anything). Contact with questions.