How Important is the Judge in my Case? Can I Change the Judge?
I’m often asked how important the Judicial Officer is in a Family Law or Dependency Law proceeding. It could be the most important non-factual part of your case. In a Family Law case you are given an assignment of which Judicial Officer will hear your matter when you first file. Under the California Code of Civil Procedure section 170.6 you are allowed to file an affidavit to send the case to a different judge. You just have a very small window of time to file your request and you don’t know where you will be sent to. In Dependency Court its even more of a time crunch because you find out who is hearing your case the day of the first hearing and although new case law exists which allows you to send the case to a different court after the detention hearing, you have to be very deliberate in your decision on if you want the judge to hear your case at the start. Not to mention you only get one challenge for an entire case.
The decision to challenge or not challenge a judge may be the most important step a party or attorney can take in their case. The more experienced the practitioner the more knowledge the lawyer will have of the system and where the case might be headed. It might be most prudent to keep the case where it is because chances are it might get worse. The peremptory challenge is a useful tool that should be taken seriously and the decision whether or not to file your challenge is your first significant choice in the case. Also to be considered is the fact that Judges move from assignment to assignment. Therefore it may not be prudent to challenge a Judge if you know they may leave sometime soon.
One of the major things a lawyer should not be considering by whether or not to file a challenge is alienation or punishment by the judge. I have spoken to many judicial officers and all that I have spoken to view the 170.6 as a valid strategy and no grudge should be held.
Finally, I am asked a lot if a Judge can be changed mid-way through hearing a case. Unfortunately, the answer is most likely no. Once a Judge starts making decisions on your case and hearing important issues you cannot change judges just because the decisions have been made against you. My best advice if things are not going your way is not to criticize the judge but perhaps change up the manner in which you are presenting your evidence.
It is important to understand your judge and their style in an effort to put the evidence before them that is most important and will get the best results. That is why hiring an experienced Family Law or Dependency Law attorney for your matter is very important.