Originally posted on SSRN.


Peeking under the tent of our nation's largest and often most impactful cases reveals that judges often act like ringmasters: They delegate their authority to a wide array of magistrate judges, special masters, and settlement administrators. Some, like the American Bar Association, see this as a plus that promotes efficiency and cost savings. Critics, however, contend that delegating judicial power especially to private citizens, removes adjudication from public scrutiny, injects thorny ethical questions about ex parte communications, and risks cronyism and high costs. By constructing an original dataset of ninety-two multidistrict products liability proceedings centralized over fourteen years, we introduce the first taxonomy of the diverse adjuncts working within them. Testing adjuncts' effects with a multivariate analysis, we found that proceedings with special masters lasted 66% longer than those without, and appointing any kind of adjunct meant that the proceeding was 43% less likely to end. Not only did justice take longer it cost more: 74% of the adjuncts were not magistrate judges, meaning that the parties paid them. Digging deeper we interviewed some of the lawyers, judges, and adjuncts who participated in these proceedings. Attorneys' experiences moved scholars' concerns from law review pages to real life: Rather than improving justice, some adjuncts cajole parties through off-the-record discussions; repeat players tap one another for business; and plaintiffs' outcomes may depend more on whether they picked an attorney with the inside track than their suits' merits. Collectively, our findings support existing reservations about allocating judicial power to those in the private sector