Judges and litigators agree that discovery disputes stop the adjudication of cases in their tracks. The disputes arise from many sources — overbroad and unspecific production requests, unnecessary depositions, voluminous document dumping, mixing up the order of documents, outright failure or refusal to produce relevant documents — just to name a few. These disputes take up a significant amount of trial judge courtroom time. Whether arising from legitimate disagreements or strategic decisions, cases stall for weeks and months while each side buries opponents, and the court, in paper. While demonstrably apparent in complex litigation courtrooms, discovery delays arise in all types of cases throughout our judicial system. We can do better.
Judicial magistrate judges in our federal courthouses have long provided stability and discipline in moving complicated and discovery-laden cases to resolution. While our magistrate judges perform a number of valuable functions, there is little dispute that their role in resolving discovery disputes has considerably improved the caseflow of our district courts. Recently, P.B. Sec. 32B’s adoption authorized judges to appoint discovery special masters in family cases. The Judicial Branch should expand this authority to allow the appointment of discovery special masters wherever caseflow statistics demonstrate a need.
Whether the new class of judicial officers are designated "magistrates" or "discovery special masters" hardly matters. Beginning with a demonstration program in a few selected courthouses, attorneys with litigation experience should be appointed to help trial judges resolve the numerous disputes falling under the broad category of discovery. While in its demonstration phase, that budget allocation would be small.
Few Superior Court judges will regret no longer having to decide whether a protective order should issue, or if a document request is overbroad or burdensome, or whether certain materials should appear in a privilege log. Discovery disputes have long been competently resolved by magistrate judges in our federal courts. Connecticut’s state judiciary should take a serious look at the potential of discovery special masters in a carefully-designed demonstration program substantial enough to give the concept a fair trial.•