M E M O
TO: Joint Procedure Committee
FROM: Mike Hagburg
RE: Administrative Rule 13, Judicial Referees
The Committee considered changes to Admin. Rule 13 at its January meeting. The proposed changes would have required that district courts review referee decisions under a "clearly erroneous" standard of review. The Committee rejected this standard and requested that staff redraft the rule to allow the district court to use a de novo standard of review when considering referee decisions. A draft rule containing the changes suggested by the Committee's members at the January meeting is included here.
The Committee also suggested that staff look at what other states are doing when courts review juvenile referee decisions.
In Minnesota, Minn. Stat. § 484.70, requires the juvenile court to confirm all referee decisions, and if a referee decision is challenged by a party, the juvenile court must hold a review hearing. In Matter of D.K., 363 N.W.2d 877 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985), the appellate court held that a reviewing court may hold a trial de novo at its hearing on a referee decision, but it is not required to do so. Therefore, Minnesota juvenile courts seem to have full power to accept or reject referee decisions without deferring to the referee.
Iowa law is similar to Minnesota's. Under Iowa Code § 602.7103, parties may ask the district court to review a referee decision and the district court may conduct a rehearing if it desires. The Iowa Supreme Court in Interest of D.L.C., 464 N.W.2d 881 (Iowa 1991) said that Iowa Code § 602.7103 authorizes the district court to conduct a de novo review on the record, which is the same standard of review the appellate court is allowed to use.
South Dakota uses referees in a variety of domestic relations cases. South Dakota district courts apparently must give referee decisions some degree of deference -- in Bonde v. Boland, 631 N.W.2d 924 (S.D. 2001), the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed a district court's decision to reject a referee's recomendations because the court's decision was "clearly erroneous."
Another issue related to Rule 13 was raised by an attorney who contacted staff by telephone. The attorney indicated that the lack of clarity regarding the district court's standard of review under the language of the rule created serious problems. The attorney suggested that, if the district court could only exercise a "rubber stamp" standard of review, then requiring dissatisfied parties in juvenile cases to seek district court review was just a waste of time. The attorney said time was the key factor in juvenile cases because of the constantly changing situation of the parties. The attorney said he prefer skipping the district court review and going straight to the Supreme Court because of the time factor, especially if district courts are not allowed to review referee decisions in a meaningful way.
Regardless of what the Committee does with Rule 13, it will likely be back for review at a future meeting. Pending currently before the Supreme Court is Interest of A.B., a very complicated case in which a district court rejected a referee decision without allowing the party that prevailed at the referee level to state its position. There is nothing in Admin. Rule 13 at present that sets out the specific procedure the district court must follow on review of a referee decision. It is likely that the Supreme Court, in deciding Interest of A.B., will suggest further revision of Admin. Rule 13.