Discovery Referees are most commonly used in complex matters where there is a disagreement between the parties relating to the scope and subject matter of discovery. These disputes can be very time consuming and emotional. To improve efficiency, the trial court has the jurisdiction to appoint a referee if the judge feels that it is warranted by the situation. The process may be "voluntary" or "involuntary" and is governed by the Code of Civil Procedure. In California, the appointment process is governed by §638 (voluntary) and §639 (involuntary).
A reference is voluntary when the parties and their counsel agree that the appointment of a referee is necessary. Often they will also have agreed to who shall serve as the referee. The referee need not be a retired judge, but almost always is at least a lawyer due to the nature of the appointment and the knowledge necessary to fulfill those duties. A reference is involuntary when the judge independently determines that a referee is needed. The parties may still have the option of selecting their referee, but the judge will appoint one if the parties can not agree on someone who is mutually acceptable.
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