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What Is a Temporary Judge?


A “temporary judge”—also known as a “judge pro tempore” or “private judge”—is a member of the legal community who offers their services to act as a judge or intermediary in civil cases in exchange for a fee.

The California constitution and related statutes explicitly recognize the role of “judge pro tempore” for cases where the parties agree to use their services instead of an official public judge. California law authorizes a judge pro tempore to assume the duties and responsibilities of a public judge when the parties agree in writing to use their services.

Alternatively, the parties can hire a temporary judge to act as an experienced intermediary in mediation proceedings to informally and privately resolve legal issues with the aim of achieving a private settlement for the matter at hand.

The temporary judge role was created to help relieve the immense burden that California courts faced in cases such as divorces and other family law disputes. When the laws authorizing the use of temporary judging were enacted, they provided litigants with an “express pass” to handle their legal disputes, bypassing the backlog of cases that plagued California’s courts.

Using a Judge Pro Tempore in Family Law Cases

It is common to see celebrities and other wealthy individuals use “private judges” in their divorces. Private judges are typically legal professionals who retired from serving as a public judge in family law cases, or experienced attorneys who may or may not currently have a private family law practice.

When it comes to divorces and other family law matters, a private judge might wear two hats. California law authorizes parties to litigation to hire a private judge as an informal measure to resolve their dispute. Similar to a mediator, a private judge acting as a “referee” guides the parties toward private settlement and helps them resolve essential issues such as the division of property, the provision of domestic support, and child custody matters. Like mediators, private judges acting as a referee for the parties do not issue formal legally-binding orders.

However, if the parties cannot reach an agreement on certain issues, a private judge can act in a more formal capacity, conducting hearings and other legal proceedings in accordance with the rules of evidence and civil procedure. Temporary judges acting in an official judicial capacity are also bound by the same ethical standards that apply to public judges.

Pros and Cons of Using Temporary Judges in Family Law Cases

One of the biggest reasons in favor of using a judge pro tempore is the expediency they provide. The parties are not bound to the court’s calendar and docket traffic when utilizing a judge pro tempore. Whether the private judge is acting as a referee or official judge, proceedings can be conducted in a more private setting. For example, many celebrities utilize a private judge in their divorces from the comfort of their own homes.

To some degree, temporary judges also provide the parties with greater privacy than public court proceedings. When acting as an informal mediator, the private judge is not bound to the open court rules and policies that apply to public court proceedings. As a result, the parties can protect against the disclosure of the gruesome details of their divorce.

However, when a temporary judge acts in an official judicial capacity, the open court laws that apply to public proceedings also apply to formal proceedings over which the private judge presides. Public access to court minutes, filings, and the evidentiary record applies to formal private judge proceedings as well. In contrast, the parties can litigate their dispute with the benefits and protections provided by the California rules of evidence and civil procedure.

A controversial aspect of private judging concerns the possibility of an inherent conflict of interest, especially for private judges who still practice family law as a private attorney. A private attorney hired as a private judge in one case may have an incentive to rule favorably for parties represented by a familiar attorney who provides repeat or reciprocal business for the private judge.

Get Effective Legal Counsel from Gille Kay Law Group, P.C.

For more information about whether the use of a private or “temporary judge” is appropriate for your case, please consult one of our skilled attorneys at Gille Kay Law Group, P.C. We have extensive experience handling various family law cases, including divorce issues.

Call us at (626) 340-0955 or contact us online for a confidential case evaluation today.

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