A Family Law Practice Devoted
to Alternative Dispute Resolution
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Private Judging

by Michael Tobriner

Michael has served as a private judge in family law proceedings at the request of parties and attorneys and on referral of the San Francisco Superior Court.

What Is a Private Judge?

Parties and attorneys in a family law case select an experienced, qualified neutral party, usually either a practicing family law attorney or a retired judge, to act in place of the Superior Court judge or judges who would hear the case if it remained in public court. The Presiding Judge of the Superior Court signs court documents formally appointing the selected neutral as a temporary Superior Court judge for that particular case. The appointment vests the temporary judge, who is generally referred to as a private judge, with all of the powers of Superior Court judge, so that the private judge can hear and determine all aspects of the case. All of the private judge’s decisions are fully binding as a matter of law.

Although parties do incur a cost for the private judge’s fee, private judging offers several distinct advantages. It allows the parties and attorneys to choose their own judge and, in so doing, to insure that a person whose expertise and good judgment they trust will be deciding the case. It permits the judge to devote as much time and attention to the case as necessary, without the demands of the very heavy case calendars placed upon public family law courts. It allows the attorneys and the private judge to schedule motions, hearings, and similar proceedings in a timely, efficient manner, without the delays and continuances inherent in public court proceedings. It allows the private judge to manage the case efficiently, so that issues are identified and resolved in an orderly and productive fashion. All of these advantages in turn promote cost-effectiveness and speedy overall resolutions.