Magistriate Judges and the Power to Sanction

A panel of the Second Circuit split last year on the question whether a magistrate judge possesses the power to issue sanctions, as opposed to merely recommending them. See Kiobel v. Millson, 592 F.3d 78 (2d Cir. 2010) and our post of February 2, 2010. Under Rule 53(c)(2), special masters may impose non-contempt sanctions. It seems odd that there would be any question about the power of magistrate judges in light of this. Why would the power of a one-time, part-time judicial officer be deemed to be broader than that of a full-time federal judicial officer? Further, the Official Note to Rule 53 specifies that magistrate judges may serve as special masters. Why would the power entrusted to a magistrate judge -- a full-time federal judicial officer -- expand when he or she serves as a special master, which is a part-time and usually lawyer-filled post?

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