Role of 2257 Special Master Explained

Rhett Pardon
DENVER, Colo. — What on earth is a special master, anyway?

That’s a question on a lot of people minds this week after the Free Speech Coalition delivered a list of its members to a special master for safe keeping in relation to the FSC’s motion against Justice Department enforcement of revised 2257 record-keeping and labeling regulations.

Special masters are assigned every day in cases across the country, especially in probate court, according to First Amendment attorney J.D. Obenberger.

“They are used in lots of complex cases when the court doesn’t have time to do certain things,” Obenberger told XBiz. “Sometimes they are appointed by a court to find facts or offer opinions or perform other special tasks.”

In the case of Free Speech Coalition vs. Alberto Gonzales, retired U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce D. Pringle will serve as special master, according to court documents obtained by XBiz.

Among the tasks Pringle will perform is to keep the names and addresses of FSC members from prying eyes.

In keeping with an agreement between the FSC and the Justice Department, the FSC on June 30 submitted a master list of members to Pringle.

According to the agreement, any individual or company on the list will be protected against government inspection pending a hearing on the case, scheduled for Aug. 1-2.

The list, meanwhile, will remain sealed from scrutiny by anyone other than Pringle and the board of directors of the Free Speech Coalition.

Appointments of special masters can sometimes be controversial. A court is free to assign a special master without the consent of either the plaintiff or defendant, which can be a major point of contention when one or more of the parties involved objects to the individual assigned to the job.

But in the case of Pringle, both the FSC and Justice agreed on the appointment of Pringle, who served as a U.S. magistrate judge from 1999 to 2001, when he retired from the bench and returned to private practice, working mostly in the area of commercial litigation.