A California appeals court ruled Friday that a private retired judge hired to mediate a custody battle between actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt should be disqualified due to a possible conflict of interest, giving Jolie a leg up. The actors’ divorce was finalized in 2016, but custody and visitation of their six children–five of which are minors– have been an ongoing issue. Their eldest, Maddox is 19. Their other children are Pax who is 17, Zahara, 16, Shiloh, 15 and 12 year old twins Vivienne and Knox.
The 2nd District Court of Appeals agreed with Jolie that Judge John W. Ouderkirk, who officiated the couple’s wedding, failed to sufficiently disclose all business ties with Pitt’s attorneys. Jolie’s attorneys had asked Ouderkirk to disqualify himself last August, but he declined. A Superior Court judge initially denied Jolie’s request, saying that her complaint came too late, but on Friday, a three-judge panel determined that Ouderkirk should no longer work on the custody dispute.
"Judge Ouderkirk's failure to make mandatory disclosures violated his ethical obligations; and, under the circumstances here, Judge Ouderkirk's ethical breach ... might cause an objective person, aware of all of the facts, reasonably to entertain a doubt as to Judge Ouderkirk's ability to be impartial.”
This decision means that the custody fight, which was nearing an end, is now starting over again with a new judge. Back in May, Jolie and her attorneys criticized Ouderkirk for barring the couple’s children from testifying along with failing to adequately consider a section of the California courts code, which states that it is detrimental to the best interests of the child if custody is awarded to a person with a history of domestic violence.
Pitt’s lawyer, Ted Boutrous said on Friday that the disqualification of Judge Ouderkirk was an attempt on Jolie’s part to stall Ouderkirk’s recent tentative custody decision, which favors Pitt, from going into effect. According to San Francisco Bay Area divorce lawyer Brent Kaspar, Pitt and Jolie will either have to pick a new private judge to hear the custody matters or Pitt will have to take his case to a public judge in family court.
46 year old Jolie and 57 year old Pitt were among one of Hollywood’s most high-profile couples for 12 years. They had been married for two years when Jolie filed for divorce in 2016.
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