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Judge Sleet Appoints Special Master for Motion to Disqualify Counsel

June 8, 2016

In INO Therapeutics LLC, et al. v. Praxair Distribution Inc., et al., C.A. No. 15-170-GMS (D. Del. May 24, 2016), Judge Sleet appointed a special master to hear the plaintiffs’ motion to disqualify the defendants’ counsel. Prior to plaintiffs filing their motion, the parties filed a stipulation agreeing that the briefing on the motion to disqualify would be subject to an additional layer of protection requiring defense counsel to create two teams—the litigation team and the disqualification team—and to screen the litigation team from confidential portions of the disqualification briefing. Six days after the motion, brief, and supporting declarations and exhibits were filed, Judge Sleet issued an oral order setting a telephone conference to discuss the parties’ stipulation and striking the plaintiffs’ filings from the record. A full transcript of the teleconference is unavailable, but the minute entry states that “[a]fter hearing arguments and having discussion with counsel on how to proceed with the issue, the Court will refer this motion to the Special Master.” Judge Sleet further ordered that “the losing party shall pay the prevailing party’s costs associated with the motion to disqualify counsel,” and the Markman hearing would go forward as scheduled while the motion is pending. While he mostly overturned his prior order striking the motion, brief, and declarations from the record, one declaration was “summarily stricken.” An order then followed appointing Special Master Paul M. Lukoff to hear and decide the motion to disqualify.

Analysis: In appointing a special master, Judge Sleet emphasized that the Court revised the scope and administration of the Special Master Panel for complex cases in 2011 and that the goals and needs expressed in the Special Master Panel procedures were served in this case. While not used with great frequency by the judges, special masters continue to play an important role in allowing an alternative method of dispute resolution.