Angela Jolie Wins Against Private Judge Scheme

LOS ANGELES – Angela Jolie and her then-ex husband Brad Pitt stipulated to the use of privately compensate judge John W. Ouderkirk (Ret.) to handle their divorce case. Ouderkirk was hired through Alternative Dispute Resolution Centers (ARC). But Ouderkirk and ARC failed to disclose all of the cases that he had previously worked on with Pitt’s lawyer, Lance S. Spiegel, or his law firm Young Spiegel & Lee.

Two years later, Jolie retained new lead counsel, who requested more details about Judge Ouderkirk’s disclosures. Judge Ouderkirk made several corrections and additions to his disclosures, including an ongoing relationship with Pitt’s counsel in another matter. As a result Jolie asked Ouderkirk to recuse himself based on the undisclosed ongoing professional relationship he had with Pitt’s counsel.

When Ouderkirk refused to recuse himself, Jolie file a verified statement of disqualification in the superior court, arguing that Ouderkirk could be biased in light of his failure to disclose multiple professional relationships with Pitt’s counsel and his law firm. Jolie’s motion was made pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 170.3(c)(5).

Ouderkirk filed an opposition claiming that the California Code of Judicial Ethics did require him to provide full disclosures within any certain amount of time.

Jolie filed a motion to disqualify the privately compensated John W. Ouderkirk (Ret.), the privately compensated judge that Jolie and Pitt agreed to assign to their case.

The Court of Appeal determined Ourderkirk was required to disclose acceptance of new professional relationships and his failure to do so must be judged by Code of Civil Procedure section 170.1(a)(6)(A)(iii) and Canon 6D(3)(a)(vii)(C).

The legal standard was, whether a person aware of the fact that privately compensated judge Ouderkirk’s acceptance of new professional relationships and his failure to make required disclosures might reasonably entertain a doubt that he would be impartial. The Court of Appeal found a reasonable doubt as to Ouderkirk’s impartiality existed. And that his disqualification was required.

The Court of Appeal reasoned that the person on the street might reasonably entertain a doubt as to Ouderkirk’s ability to remain impartial in the custody dispute given his failure to disclose new business with Pitt’s attorney coupled with his breach of ethical obligation to timely disclose those relationships. Just because Jolie’s original lawyer, Laura Wasser, and Pitt’s lawyer Spiegel, apparently were indifferent to Judge Ouderkirk’s failure to comply with his ethical obligations, did not give him “carte blanche to continue to violate his ethical responsibilities.”

Justice Segal, in his concurring opinion, explained the statutory scheme behind privately compensated judging, and that they are, “during the term of their appointment, are superior court judges, just like regular, sitting judges.”

Justice Segal wrote: “I believe the Judicial Council should adopt the rule its ad hoc committee recommended in 1993: Temporary judges may be paid by the court, but may not be privately compensated except when serving as court-appointed referees. The Judicial Council created the term “privately compensated temporary judge,” or at least approved the concept. In my view, it is time for the Judicial Council to reconsider that decision.”

Download the opinion in Angela Jolie v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (2021) 66 Cal.App.5th 1025.

Download the order assigning John Ouderkirk to In Re: Marriage of Angela Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Download the memorandum and points and authorities in support of disqualifying John Ouderkirk.

Download the verified motion for disqualification of John Ouderkirk.

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