1999 Montana Legislature

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     Section 1.  Standing masters -- appointment and removal -- compensation -- qualifications. (1) With approval of the governing body of the county or counties served by the district court or with the approval of a consolidated city-county government, a district court may appoint one or more standing masters. A standing master serves at the pleasure of the district court and may be removed by the appointing judge. The compensation to be paid to a standing master must be set by the appointing judge and must be paid by the counties served by the district court.

(2)  A standing master must be admitted to practice law in Montana for at least 3 years prior to the date of appointment and must be a member of good standing of the state bar of Montana.

     Section 2.  Standing masters -- reference -- powers. (1) A reference to a standing master must be made at the judge's discretion or by standing order of the district court.

(2)  (a) The order of reference to the standing master may specify or limit the standing master's powers and may direct the standing master to present findings of fact and conclusions of law upon particular issues. Subject to the specifications and limitations stated in the order, the standing master shall regulate all proceedings in every hearing before the standing master and implement measures necessary for the efficient performance of the standing master's duties under the order.

     (b)  The standing master may:

     (i)  require the production of evidence upon all matters embraced in the reference, including the production of all books, papers, vouchers, documents, and writings that are applicable;

     (ii) rule upon the admissibility of evidence unless otherwise directed by the order of reference;

     (iii) put witnesses on oath and examine them;

     (iv) call the parties to the action and examine them on oath; and

     (v)  issue temporary orders that are subject to review by the district court, upon objection by a party to the action.

     (c)  The standing master shall make a record of the evidence offered and excluded in the same manner and subject to the same limitations as provided in the Montana Rules of Evidence for a court sitting without a jury. Audio and video recordings are acceptable means of record so long as a master recording is properly preserved and can be transcribed for district court and appellate review.

     Section 3.  Standing masters -- proceedings -- meetings -- witnesses -- statements of account. (1) When a reference is made, the clerk shall immediately furnish the standing master with a copy of the order of reference. Unless the order of reference otherwise provides, the standing master shall set a time and place for the first meeting of the parties or their attorneys to be held within 20 days after the date of the order of reference and shall notify the parties or their attorneys. The standing master shall proceed with all reasonable diligence. Either party, on notice to the parties and standing master, may apply to the court for an order requiring the standing master to speed the proceedings and to make the report. If a party fails to appear at the time and place appointed, the standing master may proceed ex parte or, in the standing master's discretion, adjourn the proceedings to a future day, giving notice to the absent party of the adjournment.

(2)  The parties may procure the attendance of witnesses before the standing master by the issuance and service of subpoenas as provided in Rule 45 of the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure. If, without adequate excuse, a witness fails to appear or give evidence, the witness may be punished for a contempt and be subjected to the consequences, penalties, and remedies provided in Rules 37 and 45 of the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure.

(3)  When matters of accounting are in issue before the standing master, the standing master may prescribe the form in which the accounts must be submitted and may require or receive in evidence a statement by a certified public accountant who is called as a witness. Upon objection of a party to any of the items submitted or upon a showing that the form of statement is insufficient, the standing master may require a different form of statement to be furnished or the accounts or specific items to be proved by oral examination of the accounting parties or upon written interrogatories or in such other manner as the standing master directs.

     Section 4.  Standing masters -- findings of fact and conclusions of law -- orders -- contents and filing -- review -- stipulations as to findings. (1) Subject to the order of reference, the standing master shall submit findings of fact and conclusions of law, following a hearing upon the matters submitted to the standing master by the order of reference. When a hearing is not required, the standing master shall submit an order upon the matters submitted to the standing master by the order of reference. The standing master shall file the findings and conclusions or order with the clerk of the court and serve copies on all parties. All contested proceedings before the standing master must be recorded. The standing master shall, at the expense of the district court, file a recording of the proceedings and of the evidence and the original exhibits. The cost of the preparation of a duplicate of the recording is the responsibility of the objecting party. The objecting party shall serve a copy of the duplicate recording on adverse parties at the objecting party's expense.

(2)  Within 10 days after being served with notice of the filing of the findings and conclusions or order, any party may serve written specific objections upon the other parties or may apply to the court for an extension to serve. Application to the court for action upon the findings and conclusions or order and upon the filing of specific objections to the findings and conclusions or order must be by motion and upon notice as prescribed in Rule 6(d) of the Montana Rules of Civil Procedure. The court, after a hearing, may adopt the findings and conclusions or order and may modify, reject in whole or in part, receive further evidence, or recommit the findings and conclusions or order with instructions.

(3)  The effect of a standing master's report is the same whether or not the parties have consented to the reference, but when the parties stipulate that a standing master's findings of fact are final, only questions of law arising upon the findings and conclusions may be considered.

     Section 5.  Codification instruction. [Sections 1 through 4] are intended to be codified as an integral part of Title 3, chapter 5, part 1, and the provisions of Title 3, chapter 5, part 1, apply to [sections 1 through 4].

     Section 6.  Effective date. [This act] is effective July 1, 1999.

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