What is a Discovery Special Master (DSM)?

This Week’s Blog by Carole T. Orland

  • The Court may appoint a DSM in your divorce case to resolve discovery disputes.
  • Discovery may include production of documents, written responses to questions, and/or Deposition testimony.
  • Utilizing a DSM often saves the parties time and money, as opposed to having the Court decide discovery disputes.
  • Typically the DSM is paid from marital funds during the divorce litigation.
  • The Court retains ultimate authority with regard to discovery disputes.

In certain cases where there are disputes involving discovery, the parties may agree or the Court may appoint a Discovery Special Master. Discovery in divorce cases typically includes the production of certain documents, responses to written questions and/or testimony at a Deposition. Discovery in Connecticut is very liberal. Essentially, if the information sought is “reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence,” it must be produced unless there is some prevailing privilege, such as that between attorney and client, to the contrary. Connecticut Practice Book Sec. 13-2. However, it is not uncommon in divorce cases to have a disagreement as to what must be produced. If the parties cannot agree they can bring the issue before the Court through Motion practice. The Court has the option of deciding the dispute or referring the matter to a DSM. With their busy dockets and frequent understaffing, Courts generally are not inclined to spend hours sorting out discovery disputes, some of which may be granular in nature. It is, therefore, more practical for the Court to assign the discovery issues to a DSM.

Who Serves as a DSM?

Any lawyer can serve as a DSM. The parties can agree on whom that person should be or in the absence of an agreement, the Court can choose the DSM.

What Protocol Does the DSM Use for Addressing Discovery Disputes?

The Court may establish a general protocol in its Order. Each DSM may handle a case differently, but generally the DSM will ask counsel to provide to him or her the discovery requests in issue along with a memorandum in support or opposition of production, along with certain documentation relevant to discovery. If there is an issue of law, the DSM may ask for legal support in the form of a memorandum or brief. Next, the DSM may either decide the dispute on the papers or confer telephonically or at an in-person conference with counsel and sometimes the parties.

Is the DSM’s Decision Binding?

The Court retains ultimate authority to determine discovery disputes.

Who Pays for the DSM?

The parties are responsible for paying the DSM. Typically, the DSM’s fees are paid out of martial funds during the litigation.

What is the Advantage of Having a DSM?

An experienced DSM can usually give more timely attention and move through the issues quicker than the Court can do, thereby saving the parties attorney’s fees and money in the long run, and preventing delays due to discovery disputes.

What Other Matters Might a DSM Address?

The DSM can address matters of Deposition scheduling for parties, witnesses and experts as well as substantive issues related to these Depositions.

At Broder & Orland LLC, with offices in Greenwich and Westport, we have significant experience working with Discovery Special Masters in our divorce cases throughout Connecticut. We are adept at streamlining the discovery process to the extent possible in order to get the information we need and in producing required information to your spouse, in a timely and cost effective manner.  We recognize that the DSM can be an excellent resource in that regard.