Arbitration & Private Judging FAQs

What is a ‘Private Judge’? 

A private judge performs the same role as a courtroom judge, but instead of being assigned to whomever the court clerk decides, the parties and their attorneys can agree upon a judge that they feel is right for the case.  Many people do not realize that judges are often inexperienced in the area of law over which they preside.  For example, a criminal law practitioner may be assigned to the family or civil bench.  Private judging offers the benefit of pleading your family law matter before a Certified Family Law Specialist, who has devoted her career to this area of law.

What are the benefits to retaining a Private Judge?

The benefits of private judging are substantial.  This process significantly reduces the cost of litigation, the waiting time for scheduled hearings and trials, protects the privacy and reputation of litigants who want to keep their ‘dirty laundry’ out of the public record, and offers accessibility to a fully staffed office of competent and compassionate legal professionals who are ready and willing to assist with disputes as they arise.

What cases do Private Judges handle in this office?

At the Law Offices of Russo & Prince, we offer Private Judging in all family law, and custody cases.  This includes divorce, legal separation, annulment, child custody and visitation, guardianship, parentage and paternity disputes, domestic partnerships, child support, spousal support or alimony, retirement division, property division, interstate custody disputes and requests to move-away with a child, and related family law matters.

Is private judging similar to mediation? 

 Mediation is a process where parties, with or without private attorneys, work together with an Attorney Mediator in an effort to negotiate a full resolution.  Once an agreement is reached, the Mediator will ensure that all procedural steps are taken to prepare and process your dissolution of marriage, paternity/parentage, legal separation or custody judgment. 

In Private Judging, the parties are encouraged to hire independent attorneys, because the Judge cannot prepare or assist them in preparing any of the paperwork.  The Private Judge will try to bring the parties to an agreement, but ultimately retains the authority to determine what is best.  The Judge hears the arguments and facts presented by each party, considers all aspects of the case and the history of the parties, as well as the needs of any children, and issues a binding order.  The parties will be bound by this order just like any other court order, which will be full enforceable by the Court and law enforcement. 

This does not mean that private judging clients are prevented from reaching their own agreements without a Judge, and they are encouraged to do so.  These private agreements, whether made in Court or with a Private Judge, are called stipulations.  Stipulated orders are as enforceable as those issued by a judge.  

What is the source of the private judge’s authority?

The California Constitution grants authority to litigants to take their cases to a qualified attorney or retired judge to act as a Private Judge. When parties agree on a private judge, they prepare a Stipulation for Appointment of Private Judge, which is signed by all parties and counsel, as well as the private judge.  This Agreement is then filed with the court, at which time the Private Judge is vested with all of the authority of a judge appointed to a Superior Court, within this specific case.  The private judge may choose to accept or decline the appointment, based on her schedule and the issues presented in the case.

What law do we follow when we appear before a Private Judge?

All California laws, and most Local Rules as well, apply in Private Judging.  The Private Judge sign the same oath of office administered to Superior Court judges.

However, not all of the same courtroom rules apply.  Parties seeking private judging often prefer to have a slightly less formal atmosphere in their hearings and trials, which is one of the appeals of this process.  Parties are also given the opportunity to modify the strict rules of procedure and evidence which are required in a courtroom trial, to more closely match their desire to articulate their positions and understanding of the law.  This less formal route is optional however, and some attorneys may prefer to manage their trials in the manner in which they are familiar and comfortable.

Who pays the Private Judge?

As in privately retained cases, we charge hourly for our time.  This means that the parties are required to pay the judges fees in order to continue to have access to the benefits of private judging.  Most commonly the parties will share the cost in some manner, or will agree to withdraw funds from the community estate, such as a lien against real property or an investment account.  In some circumstances it is appropriate for one party to advance the cost.  In other cases one party may advance the cost, and the Judge will ultimately decide to reallocate the expense due to disparity in financial resources, or in cases where one party engages in unreasonable behavior that increases the overall litigation costs. 

Although it may be counterintuitive, this process does save most clients money.  This is because court hearings often take weeks if not months to be heard.  Once your hearing date arrives, parties often spend hours waiting to be heard, during which they are paying their attorneys to sit in court waiting for the hearing to occur.  Sometimes matters are put over to a different day, and once again clients incur this cost.  Once the case is called, a harried and busy judge may spend 15-20 minutes, or less, actually hearing the parties before making a ruling.  This can lead to mistakes, very narrow orders, or very broad orders with little detail – which can be difficult to enforce.  Private judging resolves all of these issues in nearly all cases, where we are able to get clients in quickly, hear them at their appointed time, give them the time the problem requires, and expediently issue effective and detailed orders. 

What if we disagree on only a single issue, & wish to resolve the remainder of our case through mediation or negotiation? 

Private judging is very effective in these circumstances, where the quick resolution of a single issue will permit the remaining issues to be resolved between the parties.  Often, parties disagree about one thing that is holding up resolution of everything else.  This is one of the best and most economical uses of private judging.

Contact us today to learn more about whether Private Judging is right for your case.