Appointment of Referees, Masters, and Special Aids

Appointment of Referees, Masters, and Special Aids

The administration of insolvent enterprises, investigations into the reasonableness of public utility rates, and the performance of other judicial functions often require the special services of masters in chancery, referees, auditors, and other special aids. The practice of referring pending actions to a referee was held in Heckers v. Fowler302 to be coequal with the organization of the federal courts. In the leading case of Ex parte Peterson,303 a United States district court appointed an auditor with power to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of testimony. The court authorized him to conduct a preliminary investigation of facts and file a report thereon for the purpose of simplifying the issues for the jury. This action was neither authorized nor prohibited by statute. In sustaining the action of the district judge, Justice Brandeis, speaking for the Court, declared: “Courts have (at least in the absence of legislation to the contrary) inherent power to provide themselves with appropriate instruments required for the performance of their duties.... This power includes authority to appoint persons unconnected with the court to aid judges in the performance of specific judicial duties, as they may arise in the progress of a cause.”304 The power to appoint auditors by federal courts sitting in equity has been exercised from their very beginning, and here it was held that this power is the same whether the court sits in law or equity.

302 69 U.S. (2 Wall.) 123, 128-129 (1864).

303 253 U.S. 300 (1920).

304 253 U.S. at 312.

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Last modified: June 9, 2014