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A judicial officer who presides over civil hearings but usually does not have the authority or power to render judgment.

Referees are usually appointed by a judge in the district in which the judge presides. Referees aid the judge by hearing certain matters and by making recommendations concerning special or complicated issues. Judges generally delegate a portion of their judicial power to referees, who then report their recommendations to the judge concerning the issue.

The English chancery master was the fore-runner of the present-day referee. In eighteenth-century England, the chancellor courts used special masters to aid the chancery in handling its expanding Equity jurisdiction. Accordingly, the chancery master aided the chancellor only in equitable matters, such as marriage dissolutions, trust matters, and financial accountings. U.S. jurisdictions adopted the use of special masters or referees modeled on the English chancery master.

In most jurisdictions a referee must be an attorney. Nevertheless, in some complex property or financial matters, a judge may appoint a person who is not an attorney to preside over a dispute and to make recommendations. The term reference usually refers to the trial and determination of issues arising in a civil action by a person appointed for that purpose by the court. An order of reference, which is also called a referral order, is the court order that appoints the referee to hear and recommend action on the issues that are specified in the order.

Judges generally appoint a referee to hear complicated matters, such as financial accountings, property lien issues, or business valuation disputes. Many jurisdictions also have referees who are appointed to hear specified special-jurisdiction matters, such as Family Law, trust and probate, and pretrial discovery disputes. Parties to an action may agree to have a matter heard by a referee. In some jurisdictions the parties' consent to the appointment of a referee to hear the matter may result in the parties' waiver of any right to a jury trial.

A referee makes recommendations to the judge or court that appoints the referee but generally does not issue enforceable orders. A referee generally cannot render judgment in a case. The referee's general duty is to provide a report to the appointing judge on the issues of fact or law that prompted the referee's appointment. It has been said that "nothing can originate before a referee, and nothing can terminate with or by the decision of a referee." Referees generally serve at the pleasure of the judge and accordingly hold less judicial authority than the appointing judge. As a judicial officer, a referee is subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct.

In some jurisdictions a referee may be called a Special Master, court commissioner, or a magistrate. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for example, allow for the appointment of a "master," who can be a referee, an auditor, an examiner, or an assessor. Generally, however, the duties of a master are the same as those of a referee, and the appointing judge may limit the master's powers to report only on specified issues or to perform only particular acts. The federal judiciary also uses magistrate judges—judicial officers who perform a broad range of delegated or statutory duties, such as presiding over initial hearings in criminal cases, misdemeanor trials, pretrial proceedings, and the trial of civil cases. The Federal Magistrate Act of 1968 (Pub. L. No. 90-578, 82 Stat. 1107 [codified at 28 U.S.C.A. §§ 604, 631–639]) created the current system of federal magistrate judges and governs the duties of such magistrates.

Further readings

Sinclair, Kent, Jr. 1996. Practice Before Federal Magistrates. New York: Bender.


n. a person to whom a judge refers a case to take testimony or acquire other evidence such as financial records and report to the court on the referee's findings. (See: master)


noun adjudicator, arbiter, arbitrator, conciliator, interceder, intercessor, intermediary, intermediator, internuncio, intervener, judge, judicator, mediator, moderator, peacemaker, propitiator, reconciler, settler, umpire
Associated concepts: appointment of referee, referee in bankkuptcy, referee's findings, special referee, trial before referee
See also: adjudicate, arbiter, arbitrate, arbitrator, decide, determine, hear, intercede, intermediary, judge, mediate, negotiate, umpire

REFEREE. A person to whom has been referred a matter in dispute, in order that he may settle it. His judgment is called an award. Vide Arbitrator; Reference.

References in periodicals archive ?
CARR MILL DAM, St Helens (01744 602037) Following a drop in overnight temperatures, the best method is an open-ended groundbait swimfeeder with either red or white maggot and the hot spot is around the corner of the steep drop and the sunshine pegs where bream to 2lb are congregating.
Early morning and into the evening are certainly the best fishing times but a good tip when the fishing gets slower is to use single or double white maggot on the hook to catch eels up to 2lb - and expect a right tussle to get them into the net
Jon Mosley from Berwick had a productive day, taking 67 fish to white maggot, while Dave Jobe had a great day on Sunday, taking no less than 80lb of carp from Bowes.
Bowes Lake was in great form last Friday with carp up to 12lb 8oz and one angler losing count of the amount of fish caught, whilst on Lookout Lake, rudd and skimmers are responding well to white maggot.
Chris Mathews, with an impressive 34lb 8oz, took the best weight this week with double white maggot scoring well, and day tickets for the fishery are now sold at the winter rate of pounds 4 per day that allows the use of two rods.
CARR MILL DAM, St Helens: The best catching method is an open-ended ground bait swim feeder with either red or white maggot.
Over the next hour I changed my bait to one red maggot, one white maggot, two white maggots, one white one red maggot, worm and bread with not even so much as a tickle on my float.
Brown worked with a ground bait feeder, chucking three parts across the river and changing between red and white maggot on the hook until his swim died with 90 minutes to go.
The England international was pegged at the railway bridge, where he tackled the centre with a six-metre pole and double white maggot, catching a mix of five smaller carp,chub and perch.
CARR MILL DAM,St Helens: Skimmers are coming to white maggot on ground bait feeder gear in the roadside shallows.
Elsewhere bream can be caught on ground bait swim feeder gear with white maggot, caster and small red worms.
CARR MILL DAM, St Helens: Pleasure anglers doing well in the roadside shallows where skimmers are coming to white maggot on groundbait feeder gear.