Brad Pitt Petitions for Review in Custody Case with Angelina Jolie Following Court Loss
The filing comes after Judge John Ouderkirk, in an opinion submitted by three appellate judges, was disqualified from the custody case, effectively voiding a previous ruling that granted Pitt, 57, more time with the former couple's five minor children.
The petition, obtained by PEOPLE, argues that disqualifying Ouderkirk "effectively upended the constitutionally authorized temporary judging system in California" and now "throws open the door to disqualification challenges at any point during a case, even if the party raising the motion has long been on notice about the alleged grounds for disqualification."
"In so doing, the opinion is guaranteed to fuel disqualification gamesmanship and raises serious questions as to whether the temporary judging system is a viable option in California's severely backlogged judicial system," the petition reads.
Jolie's team argued that Ouderkirk, who had been serving as the couple's private judge, could be biased in his rulings considering he had failed to disclose continuing or new cases Pitt's attorneys had hired him to oversee. When Ouderkirk was hired in 2016, both sides listed their business relationships with the judge, and he has been extended twice during their five-year custody battle. At issue, according to the Appellate Court, were additional cases he was later hired to judge, which he didn't disclose to Jolie's attorneys.
The judges who oversaw the hearing earlier this month noted Ouderkirk's "failure to make mandatory disclosures" about other legal proceedings involving Pitt's legal counseling "might cause an objective person, aware of all of the facts" to doubt Ouderkirk's impartiality in the case, the court opinion read.
However, Pitt's attorneys claim in the petition that Jolie had been "made aware of Judge Ouderkirk's significant professional history with Pitt's counsel from the very start" of the custody case, but waited years to seek his disqualification.
"After more than four years of contentious litigation, every day of which has harmed the children and their father, an important and considered custody decision will be entirely undone as a result of an administrative error that is wholly unrelated to the merits of the custody dispute itself," Pitt's counsel argued in the petition.
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"California law requires that a party seeking disqualification of a judge file a written statement objecting to continued proceedings before the judge 'at the earliest practicable opportunity after discovery of the facts constituting the ground for disqualification,' " the petition reads. "Failure to do so constitutes waiver or forfeiture of the party's right to seek disqualification."
In a statement to PEOPLE, Pitt's counsel said that they are seeking a review of the case in the California Supreme Court "because the temporary judge, who had been appointed and repeatedly renewed by both sides, was improperly disqualified after providing a detailed, fact-based custodial decision, following a lengthy legal process with multiple witnesses and experts."
Jolie's lawyer, Robert A. Olsen, said in a statement to PEOPLE, "The Court of Appeal unanimously refused to tolerate the ethical violations of the private judge who had heard custody matters, and correctly vacated that judge's orders. Mr. Pitt's counsel's petition to the California Supreme Court displays how they are clinging to this private judge who exhibited bias and refused statutorily required evidence. It is disturbing that in full knowledge of unethical behavior, and having previously failed to disclose their new and ongoing financial relationships with him, Mr. Pitt's counsel would seek to reinstate the private judge. Ms. Jolie hopes Mr. Pitt will instead join with her in focusing on the children's needs, voices, and healing."