Jolie v. Superior Court (2021) 66 Cal.App.5th 1025

Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s ongoing divorce proceeding has been handled by a party-compensated private judge sitting as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge.  Such judges have an ongoing obligation to disclose new paid engagements with counsel representing either side.  After several rounds of such disclosures, Jolie and Pitt agreed to a custody judgment.  Nearly two years later, Pitt sought to revisit that custody judgment.  Jolie’s counsel asked if there had been any further retentions by opposing counsel and was surprised to learn that the judge had failed to disclose two or three such retentions.  The trial court declined to disqualify the private judge, finding that Jolie was too late because she should have already known that the judge had a history of being retained by opposing counsel.

Representing Jolie, GMSR successfully petitioned for mandamus relief in the Court of Appeal.  In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the private judge owed a continuing obligation to disclose new matters involving opposing counsel as they arose.  The judge’s disclosed prior history of being retained by opposing counsel did not excuse his failure to disclose new retentions.  The judge’s undisclosed new retentions, coupled with his failure to disclose those retentions until asked by Jolie’s counsel, would lead a reasonable person on the street to entertain a doubt that the private judge, consciously or subconsciously, could remain impartial.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to enter an order disqualifying the private judge from serving as a temporary judge in the divorce proceeding.

Court of Appeal Opinion – View Document