Angelina Jolie recently experienced a small victory in her contentious custody dispute with Brad Pitt. The California Court of Appeals has disqualified the private judge, John Ouderkirk, from further ruling on the matter. Jolie and Pitt selected Judge John Ouderkirk to handle the custody dispute in the hope that a private judge would further promote the privacy of the case. However, last year, Jolie asked Ouderkirk to disqualify himself for failing to sufficiently disclose his business relationships with Pitt’s attorneys in a timely manner. A lower court initially ruled that Jolie’s filing seeking disqualification came too late, but Jolie’s attorneys appealed from that order. The California Court of Appeals then ruled that Ouderkirk’s business relationships with Pitt’s attorneys raised concerns for his impartiality.
The Court ruled that Judge Ouderkirk’s ethical breach, when considered together with his recent professional relationships with Pitt’s counsel, could lead an objective person who is aware of all the facts to hold a reasonable doubt as to the judge’s ability to be impartial. The Court declared that disqualification is required.
Although the long and heated custody fight was nearing an end, the California Court of Appeals’ ruling halts Ouderkirk from further involvement in the case and potentially leaves the parties at square one to start over with a new judge. Pitt’s attorneys believe Jolie’s attempt to disqualify Ouderkirk was a stall tactic given that Ouderkirk was near a ruling, which Pitt’s attorneys firmly believe would have been favorable to Pitt.
So, what happens next? Either Jolie and Pitt can agree on a new private judge to hear the matter, or Pitt takes the case to a public judge in the California family court. In the meantime, since Ouderkirk did not rule in the matter, the parties revert to the prior custodial arrangement. Jolie and Pitt have six children together, but their eldest child, Maddox, is 19 and no longer a minor. Stay tuned!