New York Daily News


Ethics breach over ties to Pitt


LOS ANGELES — Angelina Jolie won a victory Friday in her drawn-out divorce and child custody saga with ex-husband Brad Pitt.

A California appeals court ruled that the private judge quietly deciding matters for the former Hollywood power couple behind closed doors must be disqualifi­ed.

The Second District Court of Appeals sided with Jolie in ruling that Judge John Ouderkirk committed an “ethical breach” when he didn’t sufficient­ly inform her side of the full scope of his paid business relationsh­ips with Pitt’s attorneys.

The surprise decision followed two months after Pitt won a tentative ruling from Ouderkirk granting him the 50-50 physical and legal custody of the couple’s five minor children that he sought against Jolie’s wishes.

That ruling, which is now vacated, was based on witness testimony, including from experts who spoke to the kids, a source close to the situation told the Daily News.

It wasn’t immediatel­y clear Friday whether the couple’s five-year custody war might be on the verge of starting over, but in the meantime, Pitt’s visitation with the kids will revert back to the less than 50-50 level it was before, the source said.

A spokespers­on for Pitt said the new ruling doesn’t change the underlying case.

“The appeals court ruling was based on a technical procedural issue. The facts haven’t changed. There is an extraordin­ary amount of factual evidence which led the judge — and the many experts who testified — to reach their clear conclusion about what is in the children’s best interests,” the spokespers­on said in a statement.

“We will continue to do what’s necessary legally based on the detailed findings of what’s best for the children,” the statement shared with the Daily News said.

In the 44-page appeals court opinion obtained by The News, the three-judge panel ruled that “a reasonable doubt as to (Ouderkirk’s) impartiali­ty exists.”

It faulted Ouderkirk for not voluntaril­y disclosing the depth of his interactio­n with Pitt’s legal team, saying he failed to inform Jolie’s lawyers of at least two paid private judging gigs involving Pitt’s counsel.

The court said the other matters had the effect of “renewing and expanding” Ouderkirk’s ties to the “significan­t repeat-players.”

Because Jolie’s new lawyer had no prior profession­al relationsh­ip with the judge, the court found that a “person on the street” could “reasonably entertain a doubt” as to Ouderkirk’s “ability, consciousl­y or subconscio­usly, to remain impartial in the upcoming, hotly contested custody dispute.”

“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.

Ouderkirk previously ruled that the former spouses once known as ‘Brangelina” are officially single, but final rulings on the pair’s complicate­d child custody and financial issues remain outstandin­g.

The retired judge declined to disqualify himself when Jolie asked him to in a filing in last year. A lower court judge then ruled that Jolie’s request for disqualifi­cation came too late. Jolie’s attorneys then appealed.

Jolie, 46, and Pitt, 57, both winners of an Oscar and multiple Golden Globes, were together 12 years. They tied the knot in France in 2014 with Ouderkirk officiatin­g. Two years later, Jolie filed for divorce.

The surprise split came days after a disputed incident aboard a private flight back from France.

Sources previously told The News that Pitt argued with the couple’s oldest son Maddox on the plane but did not physically harm the teenager.

The FBI and the L.A County Department of Children and Family Services investigat­ed the incident but made no charges.

 ??  ?? In custody battle, appeals court overturns judgment favoring Brad Pitt, ruling judge has undisclose­d ties to actor. He and ex-wife Angelina Jolie now will have to continue fight with a new judge presiding.
In custody battle, appeals court overturns judgment favoring Brad Pitt, ruling judge has undisclose­d ties to actor. He and ex-wife Angelina Jolie now will have to continue fight with a new judge presiding.

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