Brad Pitt is going to the California Supreme Court to fight a July decision that could start his custody battle over from scratch.
Pitt is seeking a review of a California appellate court’s ruling last month to disqualify the private judge he and his ex-wife Angelina Jolie picked more than four years ago to oversee their divorce and contentious custody dispute.
In an 87-page document filed Tuesday at the California Supreme Court and obtained by USA TODAY, Pitt’s lawyers argued that the 2nd District Court of Appeal wrongly decided to dismiss Judge John Ouderkirk based on what the actor contends was “a minor and inadvertent administrative error” involving disclosure of previous business links to Pitt’s lawyers.
That failure to disclose in a timely manner provided an opening for Jolie to challenge the judge’s neutrality after he tentatively granted joint custody of their minor children to both Jolie and Pitt.
Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., one of Pitt’s lawyers, said in a statement to USA TODAY that the appeals court’s ruling is not only unfair to Pitt but “bad for children and bad for California’s overburdened judicial system.”
“The lower court’s ruling will reward parties who are losing child custody cases, and condone their gamesmanship, by allowing them to wait and see about the likely direction of the case before seeking the disqualification of the judge,” he said.
Pitt’s legal team argues that Jolie’s “lie-in-wait” strategy allowed her to push for the judge’s disqualification after he issued a ruling – joint custody – that Jolie objected to.
The appellate court’s ruling dismissing the judge “generated widespread confusion, uncertainty, and instability for judges, litigants, and the California judicial system as a whole,” Boutrous argued in his brief.
Pitt’s lawyer asserted the ruling will cause “irreparable harm” to the Jolie-Pitt children and to those of other families in similar cases by prolonging the resolution of custody disputes in an already-overburdened court system.
“Allowing this kind of crafty litigation strategy will deprive parents of irreplaceable time with their children as judges are disqualified for minor reasons in the midst of their cases,” Boutrous said.
Jolie’s lawyer, Robert A. Olson, responded Wednesday, saying in a statement to USA TODAY that the appeals court “unanimously refused to tolerate the ethical violations of the private judge who had heard custody matters, and correctly vacated that judge’s orders.”
Olson’s statement put forth that Pitt’s legal team’s petition to the California Supreme Court “displays how they are clinging to this private judge who exhibited bias and refused statutorily required evidence,” calling it “disturbing” that Pitt’s counsel would seek to reinstate Ouderkirk “having previously failed to disclose their new and ongoing financial relationships with him.”
Olson added that Jolie “hopes Mr. Pitt will instead join with her in focusing on the children’s needs, voices, and healing.”
California has a system of constitutionally authorized private judges, most of them retired state judges, who are paid by private parties to handle matters such as divorces and who work under the supervision of state family court judges. Pitt’s lawyers argue the appellate ruling raises questions about the future viability of that system.
Jolie and Pitt’s drawn-out divorce was thrown into further delay when the appellate court handed Jolie a major victory by disqualifying Ouderkirk.
“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 court ruled.
The decision means the custody battle over the couple’s five minor children, which was nearing an end, could start over with a new judge. Pitt’s petition to the California Supreme Court is aimed at derailing that possibility.
The couple share Pax, 17, Zahara, 16, Shiloh, 15, twins Vivienne and Knox, 13, and Maddox, 20, the eldest.
Pitt’s lawyer, Boutrous, said at the time that the attempt at disqualification was a stalling tactic by Jolie to keep Ouderkirk’s tentative joint custody decision from going into effect.