Temporary Judges to Disclose Information that is Relevant to the Question of Disqualification
Jolie v. Superior Court (2021) 66 Cal.App.5th 1025
While the marriage of Angelina Jolie and Brad Bitt has since ended, their divorce continues to make headlines. A temporary judge was appointed in 2017 to handle all purposes of the dissolution. The temporary judge held rounds of disclosures with the parties' counsel and Jolie and Pitt ended up agreeing to a custody judgement. Pitt, approximately two years after agreeing to the custody judgement, sought to revisit it. The temporary judge was asked by Jolie's counsel if Pitt's counsel had retained him for any other matters in this two-year period. Jolie's counsel discovered that the temporary judge had failed to disclose additional retentions. Upon this discovery, Jolie's counsel requested that the trial court disqualify the temporary judge. The trial court held that their request was too late because given the judges previous disclosures, it was evidenced that he had a history of being retained by the the opposing counsel.
The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the temporary judge owed a continuing obligation to disclose new matters involving opposing counsel as they arose. Because the temporary judge disclosed his history of being retained by opposing counsel, that did not excuse his failure to disclose the new retentions. The Court of Appeal determined that the new retentions, in addition to his failure to disclose them until asked, would lead a reasonable person to entertain doubt regarding the impartiality of the temporary judge. Jolie moved promptly for disqualification after learning of the new disclosures, and her request was timely, and because of this the Court of Appeal reversed and ordered that the trial court disqualify the temporary judge from overseeing the divorce proceeding.
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