LOS ANGELES (AP) – A California appeals court on Friday disqualified a private judge appointed by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in their divorce case, giving Jolie a huge win.
The District Court of Appeals agreed with Jolie that Judge John W. Ouderkirk had failed to adequately disclose business relationships with Pitt’s attorneys.
“Judge Ouderkirk’s ethical violation, along with the information disclosed about his recent professional relationships with Pitt’s attorney, could reasonably cast doubt on the judge’s ability to be impartial to an objective person who knows all the facts. Disqualification is required, ”ruled the court.
The decision means the nearing end of the custody battle over the couple’s five underage children could start all over again.
The judge has already ruled the couple is divorced, but separated the custody issues.
Like many celebrity couples, Pitt and Jolie chose to hire their own judge to increase their privacy in the divorce process.
“The appeal court’s decision was based on a procedural issue. The facts haven’t changed. There is an extraordinary amount of factual evidence that led the judge – and the many experts who testified – to a clear conclusion about what is in the best interests of the children, “a statement from Pitt’s representative said. “We will continue to do what is legally necessary based on the detailed knowledge of what is best for the children.”
Details of the custody decisions have not been made public.
Ouderkirk declined to disqualify himself when Jolie told him to do so on a file in August. A lower court judge ruled that Jolie’s motion for disqualification came too late. Jolie’s lawyers then appealed.
Oral hearings on July 9 in the Court of Appeal focused on what ethical rules should apply to private judges who, like Ouderkirk, are typically retired chief judges.
“If you want to play the role of a paid private judge, you have to stick to the rules and the rules are very clear, they require full transparency,” said Jolie’s attorney, Robert Olson. “Matters that should be disclosed have not been disclosed.”
The panel asked if such a regulation should even be allowed in California, but their ruling applies only to Ouderkirk.
The lawyers on both sides did not comment directly on the verdict.
Jolie, 46, and Pitt, 57, were one of Hollywood’s most prominent couples for 12 years. They had been married for two years when Jolie filed for divorce in 2016. They were declared divorced in April 2019 after their lawyers sought a ruling that allowed a married couple to be declared single while other issues such as finances and child custody remained.
In May, Jolie and her lawyers criticized Ouderkirk for not allowing the couple’s children to testify in the trial.
The actress also said the judge had “failed to adequately consider” a section of California Courts Act that said it would be detrimental to the child’s best interests for a person with a history of domestic violence to be granted custody. Her file did not provide details of what she was referring to, but her lawyers filed a document under Siegel in March that allegedly provided additional information.
The judgment does not go into whether the children are allowed to testify in the case.
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