A California appeals court rejected a private judge used by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in their divorce dispute on Friday, giving Jolie a significant victory.
The 2nd District Court of Appeal agreed with Jolie that Judge John W. Ouderkirk failed to disclose Pitt’s attorneys’ financial affiliations enough. The judgement means that the custody battle over the couple’s five minor children, which had been on the verge of being resolved, could now be restarted.
“Judge Ouderkirk’s ethical breach, considered together with the information disclosed concerning his recent professional relationships with Pitt’s counsel, might cause an objective person, aware of all the facts, reasonably to entertain a doubt as to the judge’s ability to be impartial. Disqualification is required,” the court ruled.
The judge had already determined that the couple was divorced, but the child custody problems had been separated.
Pitt and Jolie, like many other celebrity couples, hired their own judge to increase their privacy during the divorce procedures.
When Jolie requested him to disqualify himself in a filing in August, Ouderkirk declined. Jolie’s motion for disqualification came too late, according to a lower court judge. Jolie’s lawyers then filed an appeal. The appeals court heard oral arguments on July 9 over which ethical guidelines should apply to private judges, who are mainly former superior court justices like Ouderkirk.
“If you’re going to play the role of a paid private judge you have to play by the rules and the rules are very clear, they require full transparency,” Jolie’s attorney Robert Olson said. “Matters that should have been disclosed were not disclosed.”
The judges questioned whether such a deal should be permitted in California at all, but their decision only applies to Ouderkirk.
The ruling elicited no instant response from the attorneys for both sides. For 12 years, Jolie, 46, and Pitt, 57, were one of Hollywood’s most famous couples. When Jolie filed for divorce in 2016, they had been married for two years. They were divorced in April 2019 after their lawyers requested a decision that permitted a married pair to be declared single while other problems such as finances and child custody were still being resolved.
Jolie and her lawyers slammed Ouderkirk in May for refusing to allow the couple’s children to testify in the case.
The actress also claimed that the judge “failed to appropriately examine” a provision of the California courts law that states that awarding custody to someone with a history of domestic violence is detrimental to the child’s best interests.
Her filing did not specify what it was referring to, but her lawyers filed a sealed document in March that purports to provide more information.
The decision makes no mention of whether or not the children should be permitted to testify in the lawsuit.