LOS ANGELES (AP) — Angelina Jolie Pitt and Brad Pitt have reached an agreement to handle their divorce in a private forum and will work together to reunify their family, the actors announced in a joint statement Monday.
Their statement released Monday night to The Associated Press said that they will keep future details of their divorce confidential by using a private judge.
"The parties and their counsel have signed agreements to preserve the privacy rights of their children and family by keeping all court documents confidential and engaging a private judge to make any necessary legal decisions and to facilitate the expeditious resolution of any remaining issues," their statement read. "The parents are committed to act as a united front to effectuate recovery and reunification."
The statement is the first joint comment from the actors on their divorce since Jolie Pitt filed to end their marriage in September. At the time, one of her attorneys stated the petition was filed "for the health of the family."
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Vanity Fair

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s Celebrity-Divorce Secret Weapon, Explained

We examine what the latest development means for the world’s biggest movie stars as they split.

Julie Miller
January 12, 2017 10:30 am

For the past four months, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce has been plagued by the kind of accusations that make a celebrity split resemble more of a soap-opera circus than a marital dissolution. But on Monday, the movie-star couple reached a major turning point by deciding to put any behind-the-scenes pot-stirring behind them—good-bye rumors of substance and child abuse, P.R. manipulation (Jolie’s camp has denied any such manipulation), etc.—by issuing a joint statement saying that they have turned to the celebrity-divorce secret weapon: a private judge.

Interestingly enough, Pitt used this same secret weapon in 2005, while divorcing Jennifer Aniston. The two hired Jill Robbins—who practiced family law for 14 years and is one of many California judges to trade the exhausting, public sector for the lucrative, private alternative in the past 25 years. In 2006, Robbins was reportedly charging her clients $600/hour to expertly, efficiently, and neutrally decide domestic and civil cases. With an hourly rate that steep, it is no wonder why judges leapt to the private sector. But why do celebrities—the most public faces on the planet—veer outside the public justice system to reach a divorce solution when it is faster, cheaper, and, above all, more private? Ahead, everything you need to know about celebrity’s divorce secret weapon.

In a Nutshell

California is one of a handful of states (including Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) that allows a private judge—often a retired judge—to hear cases that are mostly of the domestic-relationship, breach-of-contract, and civil variety. Private judges have “full jurisdiction over the case,” explained University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law professor Richard Reuben to NPR, “and his or her decision is as binding as any other court’s. The big difference is that it happens in private.”

Robbins, who decided Pitt and Aniston’s divorce, wrote a report explaining that private judges “are a by-product of the myriad difficulties practitioners and litigants face in accessing an overwhelmed judicial system.” Private judges are arranged by attorneys, and the price is split evenly between clients.

Celebrities Who Have Used Them

Michael Jackson hired one to oversee his divorce from Debbie Rowe. Charlie Sheen used one to divorce Denise Richards, as Renée Zellweger did in splitting with Kenny Chesney. And “billionaire supermarket magnate Ronald Burkle . . . paid a retired judge $73,000 to preside over a 10-day trial,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

The Perks

They are more efficient: Last year, Laura Wasser, the attorney handling Jolie’s divorce case, explained, “Our court system is so unbelievably clogged up that I will sit there all day long billing at my hourly rate only to have a judge say, ‘Sorry, we don’t have time.’” Robbins wrote, “Overcrowding and lack of judicial resources mean that many cases are not heard on the date scheduled, are repeatedly continued, and/or are tried piecemeal over a period of many months. In contrast, use of a private judge gives counsel the invaluable ability to control scheduling of hearing dates and times.”

Of the public justice system, Robbins argued, “It is not atypical for a 4 day trial to be heard over 6 months in 2 hour increments of time. . . . Because private judges have substantially smaller caseloads than sitting judges, they are more apt to be user friendly by scheduling telephonic conferences outside of usual court hours, telephonic conferences to resolve disputes before they become motions, and utilize informal case management upon prior agreement of counsel, all cost saving and efficient techniques.”

They are more private: “Every document you file in court immediately becomes public, and if you hire a private judge, you can work out the details before you file anything,” Wasser told The Hollywood Reporter. (Ironically Brad Pitt alleged that Jolie was filing documents in court to leak certain details about their divorce to the press.)

In 2015, Bloomberg walked readers through a private-judge hearing:

The couple and their attorneys meet somewhere—Wasser prefers to host at her office—and have their case adjudicated as it would be in a courtroom. The practice is similar to arbitration, although the decisions ultimately become public and can be appealed. The main benefit is that no one knows about the details of the split except the two people going through it. “In a normal divorce case, the press and the public can sit in on judicial proceedings,” says Melissa Murray, a family law professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “With private judges, since it’s not revealed when and where it’s going to happen, they never do.”

“The press does not have a right to be there; the public does not have a right to be there; there’s no public docket,” Professor Reuben explained of closed-door, private-judge proceedings. “If they are public, complete strangers could attend a court room hearing.”

By choosing a private judge, you can ensure a certain level of expertise, whereas, if you go the public route, a judge is chosen randomly:

“A lot of our really good family law judges have now retired,” Wasser told T.H.R. “So you can hire a retired judge and he or she will act as your mediator, or you can hire this person as an actual judge. It keeps it more private, and you have more seasoned judicial officers, as opposed to newbies.” Robbins wrote, “Some family law judges never practiced family law before their appointment.”

They are more convenient: Michael Jackson did not have to step into a court room while divorcing Debbie Rowe, since hearings for private judges are often conducted in a lawyer’s office.

The cases get more attention from private judges: “Counsel also have the singular attention of the private judge, without the inevitable interruptions that other calendared cases and ex parte matters demand of sitting judges,”wrote Robbins. Because of the expertise and attention paid to the case, Professor Reuben explained, “often you end up with a result that’s more acceptable to the parties and, therefore, more easy to enforce.”

They can, ultimately, be less expensive: While price may not be a concern for wealthier clients, hiring a private judge can result in a shorter, and thus, less expensive divorce trial. Although private judges typically charge more per hour—from $300 to $1,000—the streamlined divorce process with a private judge means clients might pay less in the long run than what they would pay in legal fees for a protracted public hearing. The private-judge hearings are also less expensive for the public—as clients rather than taxpayers pay for private judges.

The Caveats

As Professor Reuben told NPR, “The private judge’s decision is technically just a recommendation, although that recommendation is almost always accepted by the court.”

Learn by Celebrity Example

The U.S. News points to one celebrity whose public image might have been saved had she hired a private judge: Paula Deen, the celebrity chef whose empire crumbled, P.R.-wise, after a lawsuit was filed in 2013 against her alleging racial and sexual discrimination.

“Remarks she made in her deposition went viral,” explained Fran Tetunic, professor of law and director of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Clinic at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “If Deen’s hearing in Georgia—a state that permits private judges—had been allowed by the court to be overseen by a private judge, perhaps the deposition might have gone unnoticed. But perhaps not, since court cases held privately are still considered part of the public record.”

So Why Doesn’t Every Celebrity in California Use a Private Judge?

“A private judge may not be appropriate, though, when a party is belligerent or has been violent,” Randall Kessler, a divorce attorney in Atlanta and a recent chairman of the American Bar Association Family Law Section, told the U.S. News. “Someone who must be reined in by authority may feel they have unlimited ability to argue or raise their voice when the environment is too informal. There some times when the decorum and formality of the courtroom are not replaceable.”


Market Watch
Jan 12, 2017 10:35 a.m. ET

Brangelina like it quick.
At least, when it comes to their divorce. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have reportedly asked retired judge John Ouderkirk, who officiated at their wedding, to oversee the divorce. It’s a move that could mean their divorce is finalized as soon as March: Hiring a private judge — typically a retired attorney or judge who oversees a civil case — means they don’t have the deal with the famously backlogged California courts. All parties must agree on a private judge — which means that both Jolie and Pitt gave Ouderkirk the go ahead.
His cost: $450 an hour, according to Alternative Resolution Centers, a legal services provider Ouderkirk works with. That’s cheap by LA standards, where private judges often charge anywhere from $500 or $700 an hour. (Alternative Resolution Centers declined to comment on Ouderkirk’s professional relationship with Pitt and Jolie.)
Of course, Pitt and Jolie will also have to pay their divorce lawyers. Top divorce lawyers charge fees of about $1,000 an hour, so 60 minutes in family court could run Pitt and Jolie upwards of $1,225 each. (The firm of Jolie’s divorce attorney, Laura Wasser, declined comment on her fees; the firm of Pitt’s representative, Lance Spiegel, didn’t have information immediately available.)
The ex-lovers likely chose the private judge route as it offers more privacy. While all divorce hearings are technically public, private judges typically hold sessions in offices that aren’t easily accessible to reporters. California also requires that strict criteria be met before court documents can be sealed as “the press and public have a right to know,” says Anita Rae Shapiro, a private judge who sat on the LA County Superior Court. However, private judges aren’t required to file their judgments publicly if both sides comply with terms. (When Pitt divorced Jennifer Aniston in 2005, they also used a private judge.)
The rub: “Private judges can’t order that an agreement be enforced” by the authorities, “so if you want to take action, you have to go back to the court system,” says Shapiro. Still, unless Pitt and Jolie end up fighting over alimony and child custody, their divorce agreement could never see the light of day.
 Non bold-faced names could still have reason to hire a private judge. This route can end your marriage quickly, especially if there’s a backlog in their local courts, and sometimes save you money. Private judges, which typically run $300 to $700 an hour, are often available for full day hearings that start punctually. When you use a regular judge, you could wind up compensating your lawyer for hanging out at the courthouse if a previous session runs late. This route is also good for someone who doesn’t want the public to have access to intimate details of their marriage, especially if there’s a fear of identity theft or being extorted by someone who chances across their divorce papers, says Florida lawyer Jorge Cestero.


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