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Have you considered becoming a Special Master?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Have you considered becoming a Special Master? A neutral Special Master may be appointed by the Court to help police serve a search warrant on an attorney, physician, psychotherapist or member of the clergy who is not a suspect but may possess documentary evidence believed to be relevant to a criminal case. The Special Master is appointed to protect the privilege that exists between the professional and his/her client, patient or congregant. The Special Master accompanies police officers and is the person who actually conducts the search. The Special Master is empowered to seize any items listed in the warrant. The duties of a Special Master are listed under Penal Code sections 1524(c)-(k).


The State Bar maintains a list of attorneys who are authorized to be designated as Special Masters.  Special Masters serve without compensation. In order to be a Special Master, the attorney must:

(A) submit a Special Master Application to the State Bar;

            (B) at the time of application

        (1) have been an active member of the State Bar for the preceding five years;  (2) not have been disciplined in any court or jurisdiction during the preceding ten years;  (3) not have devoted more than twenty-five percent of his or her practice of law to criminal matters during the preceding year;  (4) not be subject to disciplinary investigation or prosecution; and

            (C) during the period when listed as qualified for appointment

        (1) be an active member of the State Bar;  (2) not be employed by a public defender, district attorney, attorney general, or a law enforcement agency;  (3) not be a certified criminal law specialist; and  (4) devote less than five percent of law practice time to criminal law issues.

There is an informational meeting about how to become a Special Master, the workload and responsibilities of being a Special Master on October 19, 2015 from 12:15 to 1 pm  in Department 46, Hall of Justice.  You are welcome to bring your lunch.  The Moderators will be:

                James Gibbons-Shapiro, Assistant Deputy District Attorney for the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office

                Special Master Joseph Dworak, Berliner Cohen

                Honorable Cynthia A. Sevely, Superior Court Judge

We will answer all your questions and give you an overview of the program. While each firm may have different guidelines regarding pro bono hours, we cannot represent if this program will meet the requirements of your firm.  Consider speaking with your firm to determine whether you can receive credit for pro bono hours as a Special Master.  If you have in general questions prior to the meeting, you may contact Judge Sevely at 408 808-7288 or

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