Brad Pitt vs Angelina Jolie: Why Judge John Ouderkirk was disqualified from custody battle
Brad Pitt has vowed to appeal the disqualification of a private California judge who initially presided over the fierce child custody battle raging between him and his ex-wife, Angelina Jolie.
In May, Judge John W. Ouderkirk granted the 'Fury' star joint custody of the ex-couple's five minor children in a preliminary decision. However, on Friday, July 23, a California appeals court disqualified Ouderkirk, because he didn’t 'sufficiently disclose' business relationships with Pitt’s attorneys. This was a big win for Jolie as she would effectively retain full-time custody of their children after Ouderkirk's verdict was rendered moot following his disqualification.
In the ruling, the 2nd District Court of Appeal said: “The person on the street might reasonably entertain a doubt as to Judge Ouderkirk’s ability, consciously or subconsciously, to remain impartial in the upcoming, hotly contested custody dispute. None of Pitt’s arguments that a reasonable person would not have cause to doubt Judge Ouderkirk’s impartiality withstands scrutiny. 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 custody battle between Pitt and Jolie will have to start over.
Following the ruling, a spokesperson for Pitt told Page Six: "The appeals court ruling was based on a technical procedural issue. The facts haven’t changed. There is an extraordinary amount of factual evidence which led the judge — and the many experts who testified — to reach their clear conclusion about what is best in the children’s best interests. We will continue to do what’s necessary legally based on the detailed findings of what’s best for the children.”
Who is John Ouderkirk?
According to Alternative Resolution Centers, "Judge John Ouderkirk has served as a neutral in a wide range of cases. He has mediated and arbitrated numerous matters, including lengthy, complex civil matters. He has presided over multiple family law trials as judge protem by stipulation of the parties. He is well-respected among the civil and family law bars, where he is considered to be an excellent settlement judge and a thorough and efficient discovery referee. Judge Ouderkirk has a reputation for his adept handling of highly sensitive, emotional cases."
He finished Loyola Law School in 1977 after graduating with honors from California State University, Los Angeles in 1972. He served as an investigator for the District Attorney's office from 1970-1978 and also served as a Santa Monica police officer from 1965-1970.
He was most recognized for the "Reginald Denny beating case" during his tenure in the criminal courts. Ouderkirk sat on the Los Angeles Superior Court bench from 1991-2004, where he resolved family law cases for the last four years of his tenure. From 1997-2000, he handled jurisdiction cases in the Central Civil Division. Since 2004, Ouderkirk has served as a discovery referee for the U.S. District Court and has presided over depositions in the U.S. and Italy.
Ouderkirk's ties with Pitt lawyer
Ouderkirk was the one who married Pitt, 57, and Jolie, 46, in 2014. He refused to disqualify himself when Jolie asked him to in a filing in August. Jolie argued in a filing in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday that Judge John W. Ouderkirk was "too late" and "not forthcoming enough" about other cases he was involved in with Pitt attorney Anne C Kiley, and therefore should be taken off the divorce case that she filed in 2016
Ouderkirk has “failed to disclose the cases that demonstrated the current, ongoing, repeat-customer relationship between the judge and Respondent’s counsel" during the Jolie-Pitt proceedings, the filing states. The document further alleges that Pitt’s attorney “actively advocated for Judge Ouderkirk’s financial interests in moving — over the opposing party’s opposition — to have his appointment (and his ability to continue to receive fees) extended in a high profile case.”
The 'Maleficent' star emphasized in her filing that a private judge must adhere to the same rules of disclosure and conflict interest as other officers of the court. The document said “it doesn’t matter if Judge Ouderkirk is actually biased. Under California law, disqualification is required so long as a person aware of the facts ‘might reasonably entertain a doubt’ about Judge Ouderkirk’s ability to remain impartial.”