The divorce between movie stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt continues to drag out. As of July 23rd, the California 2nd District Court of Appeals found that Judge John W. Ouderkirk, the private judge hired by the couple, had committed an “ethical breach” in the case. As a result, Oudenkirk has been disqualified from the case and the entire custody battle may need to start from scratch.
This is considered a major win for Jolie. She has been attempting to receive full custody of the couple’s five minor children for multiple years. Jolie’s claim was that Oudenkirk appeared to be favoring Pitt during the divorce because of his relationships with Pitt’s own attorneys. When Oudenkirk refused to disqualify himself in August of 2020, Jolie took it to court. There, a lower court judge ruled that her request for disqualification came too late. However, when Jolie’s attorneys appealed, the Court of Appeals found that Jolie’s arguments were valid and the disqualification held.
According to the ruling, Oudenkirk’s behavior “might cause an objective person, aware of all the facts, reasonably to entertain a doubt as to the judge’s ability to be impartial.” Essentially, the judge has been deemed vulnerable to judicial bias, and therefore not fit to hear the case.
This is far from the only case where judicial biases could have impacted the outcome. Judicial prejudice is an all-too-common occurrence, and it can significantly affect the final result of any divorce or child custody case. Keep reading to learn about judicial bias, how it can harm you, and how to fight back.
What Is Judicial Bias?
Judicial bias is defined as occurring when a judge presiding over a matter has a personal bias or prejudice against or for any of the parties involved. Since judges are human beings, it’s inevitable that every judge will have matters where they will experience prejudices. Simply experiencing bias is not the problem; it’s how they handle the case that matters.
If a judge experiences a prejudice toward or against a party in a proceeding before them, they are supposed to recuse themselves from the proceeding. If they don’t, their decision cannot be considered appropriately impartial. At best, the judge is considered unethical for not recusing themselves. At worst, they aren’t removed and one party receives an unjust ruling.
Bias can take many forms. In the case of Oudenkirk, it came in the shape of business relationships with Pitt’s representation, potentially skewing his decisions in favor of Pitt. Other types of bias include:
- Family relationships with any party or their representation
- Romantic or intimate relationships with any party or their representation
- Romantic, family, or business relationships with expert witnesses
- Racial prejudice against certain races
- Gender prejudices against one gender
Regardless of the type of prejudice, should a judge hear a case with a known favor for or against one party, the entire case may need to be reheard.
The Impact of Judicial Bias on Divorces
Judicial bias can impact cases of all types. In situations like divorce, however, it can impact far more than just one person.
For example, in the Jolie-Pitt divorce, Oudenkirk’s bias affects Pitt, Jolie, and their five minor children. Oudenkirk regularly made decisions in the case that appeared to be in Pitt’s favor. Jolie made allegations that Pitt had committed domestic abuse within their relationship and should therefore not receive custody of their children. Despite this, Oudenkirk denied her request to allow the children to testify in the divorce. His potential for bias causes this decision to appear like a preference for Pitt, whether or not Pitt actually committed any abuse.
Bias can have other effects, too. Judges who are partial towards one party may unconsciously put more weight on their testimony or requests. On the other hand, a judge who’s biased against a party may be less likely to grant them reasonable requests. Judicial bias can prevent fathers from gaining child custody, mothers from receiving child support, and either party from receiving the assets they want in the divorce.
How to Fight Judicial Bias in Your Case
You don’t have to let judicial biases ruin your separation and your life. You can fight back. Here’s how to determine if judicial prejudice is playing a role in your court case and what you can do about it.
Study the judge’s past decisions and relationships
Some judges demonstrate general prejudices in their decisions. If a judge has a history of awarding custody to women over men, then they may well have a maternal bias. You can search for their past decisions through the California circuit court records.
On a more personal level, a judge with a relationship with someone on your ex-partner’s side can also hurt your case. This is harder to spot, but leads to potentially greater consequences. Research the judge, the opposing counsel, and anyone else on the opposite side to look for connections with the presiding official.
File a complaint with the district court
Once you’ve determined that the judge is biased, it’s time to get them disqualified. You can file a request for disqualification with the district court in which your case is being heard. You’ll need to demonstrate proof of the judge’s prejudice and file the request either a minimum of ten days before your court date or prove a good reason why you couldn’t file earlier.
Work with a good attorney
The most important rule when you’re fighting against judicial biases is to have a team on your side. Working with a qualified attorney gives you a much better chance of finding and proving prejudice against you or toward your spouse.
You Deserve to Work with Unbiased Judges
You have enough hurdles to face when you’re separating from your spouse. The judge shouldn’t be one of them. If you believe you’re experiencing judicial bias in your divorce or child custody proceedings, reach out to the expert team at Kaspar & Lugay, LLP. The experienced attorneys can help you discover whether your judge is prejudiced and fight to have them removed from the case. Get in touch today to discuss your case and begin the process of receiving a truly fair separation.