Private Adjudication in Family Law


In 1990, I started spending more time litigating cases in the Los Angeles Superior Court. Impatient by nature, it didn’t take long for disenchantment to develop over how much time (translate that into “my clients’ retainers”) was wasted waiting for my case to be called. Funding for courts has always been a losing battle; it became a disaster with the 2007 economic collapse. Family Law (“FL”) Court calendars didn’t just increase, they ballooned from Department closures and employment cutbacks. Many judges give no calendar preference to cases with private counsel, so hundreds of thousands of dollars of my clients’ savings were thrown away.


Private Judging was once a luxury of the very rich. It is now an option for the upper middle class and other “well-to-do” members of society. Private Judges are usually retired FL Commissioners or Judges. The only difference is that the Governor appoints Judges, while the County’s Presiding Judge hires Commissioners. They have experience as practicing FL attorney and have sat for years in FL courts.


Private Judges charge $500-$800 per hour depending on demand. Most belong to hiring agencies, such as JAMS and ADR Associates. Others well-known enough to forego the expense of a sales and marketing organization. In the event the parties’ attorneys don’t have adequate conference rooms for hearings, Private Judges usually have access to large meeting rooms.


As the popularity, even necessity, of Private Judging has increased, the resistance to it has faded. Under California law, the parties need only execute an agreement (“Stipulation”) for a retired judge to handle their case (retired FL attorneys can be used too). The Superior Court Judge assigned the case will enter the Stipulation as a court order. Rulings, judgments, or orders by the hired judge are filed and entered as orders of the Superior Court. The parties may tailor many provisions of law to streamline their FL litigation, as long as substantial compliance with due process and equal protection are honored.


Using Private Judges, parties with better things to do than watch their money burn while their attorneys pace the halls of justice, can make specific appointments for all motions, discovery disputes, trials, and other hearings. The savings in attorneys’ fees alone will pay most of the cost of these party-selected experts, not to mention a more practical use of client time.

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