Roles of Neutrals

The ACAN Benchbook has for years collected and organized invaluable information for judges and lawyers regarding the best use of court-appointed neutrals. in 2022, ACAN changed its name from what had been the "Academy of Court-Appointed Masters" because "Court-Appointed-Neutral" better served and better described this incredibly diverse profession and ACAN is also working to try to change the name used in riles. However, neutrals appointed in accordance with Rule 53 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and in many states are still referred to as "masters." The latest edition of the Benchbook dates from January 2020 and uses these historic terms. We intend to update the termination when the Benchbook is next revised.

A court-appointed neutral "is a surrogate of the Court and in that sense the service performed is an important public duty of high order in much the same way as is serving in the Judiciary." — Chief Justice Warren Burger

Appointed neutrals can play many different roles in litigation. They can advise the court or testify as expert witnesses, especially in cases involving technical and specialized issues. Examples are:

  • Settlement Mediators are used to reach settlement agreements, often in large-scale litigation.
  • Discovery Facilitators are used to help the parties avoid discovery disputes and to resolve discovery disputes that have arisen.
  • Electronic Discovery Facilitators deal with electronically stored information (ESI) issues.
  • Coordinating Neutrals work to coordinate the activities of counsel, typically when many parties are involved.
  • Trial Neutrals may be assigned trial duties.
  • Expert Advisors may be appointed to assist the courts.
  • Technology Neutrals can assist in complex technological and scientific issues.
  • Monitors are appointed by courts to implement court orders or settlement agreements.
  • Class Action Neutrals may perform a variety of tasks relating to the appointment, management, settlement, administration and fee determination in class actions.
  • Claims Administrators administer the claims process after trial.
  • Auditor Accountants can assist the court with complex financial data.
  • Receivers may hold property until a dispute is resolved.
  • Criminal Case Neutrals may assist with executing warrants, reviewing Brady disclosures, investigating charges of misconduct, ensuring the fairness of plea bargains and numerous other criminal case issues.
  • Conference Judges may also assist with criminal cases.
  • Ethics Neutrals may evaluate ethical behavior of attorneys.
  • Appellate Neutrals may assist state and federal appeals courts with issues outside the court's normal appellate function.
  • MDL/Class Action Neutrals are used in multidistrict litigation and class action suits to reduce the workload of the court, or to serve roles that the court cannot - facilitating separate settlement and litigation tracks, helping the parties to use trusts to structure settlements fairly, helping to ensure the fairness of the selection process for lead counsel, and resolving internecine disputes among the plaintiff or the defendant counsel.