What Does It Mean When a Judge Is Disqualified from a Family Law Case?

You may have heard the recent news that actress, Angelina Jolie, won her petition to have the judge presiding over her divorce from the actor, Brad Pitt, disqualified from their case. According to an earlier petition in 2020, Jolie had requested Judge John W. Ouderkirk to be removed from her case because he was not forthcoming regarding the professional relationship he had with Pitt's attorney, Anne C. Kiley.

As cited in an Associated Press article, Jolie's filing states that "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." According to Jolie's team, Judge Ouderkirk's previous relationship with Pitt's counsel and their failure to adequately disclose the nature of that relationship creates significant doubt that he can act as an unbiased judge in their case.

How To Remove or Disqualify a Judge from a Family Law Case

In California, there are a couple of different ways to have a judge removed from a case. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure § 170.6, you have the option to request a peremptory challenge. In family law cases, this statute allows you to disqualify one judge without proving prejudice or bias. Your second option is to request a disqualification for cause under the California Code of Civil Procedure § 170.1. To file a challenge for cause, you must have specific grounds, and you have the burden of proof.

According to statute 170.1, reasons to disqualify a judge can include:

  • The judge has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts relating to the current proceeding
  • The judge previously served as legal counsel in the proceeding or has served as the attorney for either party involved in the current proceeding
  • The judge has a financial interest in either the subject of the proceeding or a party involved in the proceeding
  • The judge themselves believes that recusing themselves from the case would further the interests of justice

There are other reasons a judge may be disqualified for cause under this statute, including the one cited by Jolie in her petition: that a person aware of the facts of the proceeding might entertain a doubt about the judge's ability to remain impartial.

Consult with Your Attorney Before Requesting a Disqualification

No matter what type of disqualification you wish to request, it is important that you consult with your attorney first. Asking to have a judge removed from a case is a serious matter, and you are not guaranteed to be successful. You also want to make sure that requesting the removal is in your best interests. Your lawyer can review your case and use their experience to help you make this important decision. They can also ensure that your paperwork is properly and appropriately filed, helping increase your chances of a favorable outcome.

At Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich, we understand how difficult it can be to petition to have a judge disqualified from a family law case successfully. If you are in a situation where you need help with this process, reach out to our law firm. We are prepared to discuss your case today.


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