A California appeals court on Friday disqualified a private judge who was being used by Angelina Jolie other Brad Pitt in her divorce case, giving Jolie a huge victory.
The Second District Court of Appeals agreed with Jolie that Judge John W. Ouderkirk did not sufficiently disclose the business relationships with Pitt’s attorneys.
“Judge Ouderkirk’s ethical breach, taken together with the information released about his recent professional relationships with Pitt’s attorney, could cause an objective person, aware of all the facts, to have a reasonable doubt about the judge’s ability to be impartial. Disqualification is required, “the court ruled.
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The decision means that the fight for custody of the couple’s five minor children, which was drawing to a close, could start anew.
The judge has already ruled that the couple divorced, but separated the child custody issues.
Like many celebrity couples, Pitt and Jolie chose to hire their own judge to increase their privacy in divorce proceedings.
“The appellate court’s ruling was based on a technical issue of procedure. The facts have not changed. There is an extraordinary amount of factual evidence that led the judge – and the many experts who testified – to reach a clear conclusion about what that is in the best interests of children, “said a statement from Pitt’s representative.
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“We will continue to do what is legally necessary based on detailed findings of what is best for children.”
Details of the custody sentences have not been made public.
Ouderkirk declined to disqualify himself when Jolie asked him to do it at a performance in August. A lower court judge ruled that Jolie’s request for disqualification came too late. Jolie’s attorneys later appealed.
Oral arguments on July 9 before the appeals court focused on exactly what ethical rules should apply to private judges, who, like Ouderkirk, are often retired judges of the higher courts.
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“If you’re going to play the role of a paid private judge, you have to abide by the rules and the rules are very clear, they require full transparency,” said Jolie’s attorney, Robert Olson.
“The issues that should have been revealed were not disclosed.”
The panel questioned whether such an arrangement should be allowed in California, but its decision applies only to Ouderkirk.
Lawyers for the two parties did not have an immediate comment on the ruling.
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Jolie, 46, and Pitt, 57, were among 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 would allow a married couple to be declared single while other issues remained, including finances and child custody.
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