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Special Referee Jeffrey A. Helewitz

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In this contested divorce, issues of, among other things, equitable distribution and child support, were referred to the special referee. The parties held numerous settlement discussions with the special referee resulting in a so-ordered stipulation resolving the issue of equitable distribution. Negotiation settlements on the remaining issues broke down and a hearing was required to resolve same. Yet, an ethical dilemma arose for the referee as he realized he was unduly biased and did not believe he could hear the matter and make impartial recommendations. However, there appeared to be no statutory or judicial guidelines for such matter for a special referee. It was noted CPLR 4301 provided that a referee or judicial hearing officer had no power to relieve himself of his duties Thus, presumably, the only way a special referee may be removed from a case was for a litigant to move for recusal or disqualification. Judiciary Law §14 concerned disqualification of judges and also applied to special referees. The referee consulted an ethics attorney, notified the judge who refereed the matter, and requested to have the matter reassigned to another special referee. The referee noted this was a “backdoor method” to avoid §4301 prohibitions and where no recusal motion was made.