The role of a Special Master: Protecting sensitive & privileged documents.

May 12, 2023
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As search warrant experts, we often get questions about “Special Masters” and the crucial role they play in search warrant processes. But what exactly does a Special Master do? How is one assigned, and when are they required for the service of a search warrant? In this blog post, we will delve into the world of Special Masters and their role in the legal system, using the case of the government documents seized from Mar-a-Lago as a reference point.

What is a Special Master?

A Special Master is an expert picked by the court to help with complex cases. They might review documents, make suggestions, or do specific tasks given by the court. They’re there to protect private or privileged materials.

When is a Special Master Needed?

When the court issues a search warrant for documents handled by lawyers, doctors, therapists, or clergy, a Special Master might join the police officer serving the warrant. They help in situations where an unbiased person needs to review delicate documents, keeping the legal process fair and just.

How is a Special Master Chosen?

The appointment of a Special Master is at the discretion of the Judge. In some cases, a party involved in a case may request the appointment of a Special Master, as seen in the case of the documents seized from Mar-a-Lago, where Judge Aileen Cannon granted the request for a Special Master.  When police investigate attorneys, physicians, psychotherapists or clergy they inform the court of their suspect’s protected status.  The Court will pull from a list of qualified attorneys who have volunteered and appoint them as the Special Master in the investigation.  The Judge and the Special Master agree on the role and specific tasks that will be allowed and the Special Master will formulate a plan and procedure for collecting and reviewing the evidence to be seized.

Role of the Special Master in the Review of Documents

The main job of a Special Master is to figure out which documents matter to the case and which are protected by law. They carefully look at what was taken during the search and tell the court what can be used in the trial. This makes sure only relevant details are considered, keeping people’s privacy safe.

In some cases, a Special Master might even help a Digital Forensic Analyst with computer data, ensuring that the information is handled properly. They make sure that only the needed information is given to investigators.

Special Masters play an essential part in our legal system. They bring unbiased expertise to complex cases and keep the search warrant process honest and fair. They make sure everyone’s rights are protected, and their insights help courts make well-informed decisions. The Mar-a-Lago case is just one example of how vital Special Masters can be when documents are seized during a search.