"Consider Paula Deen. Remarks she made in her deposition went viral," Tetunic adds. "Well, viral may not be the correct word, but you get my point."
If Deen's hearing in Georgia – a state that permits private judges – had been allowed by the court to be overseen by a private judge, perhaps the deposition might have gone unnoticed. But perhaps not, since court cases held privately are still considered part of the public record.
Still, a private judge does allow you to stay off the public radar. "When a case is being heard in the court room, a passerby can just come in. That doesn't happen if you facilitate your hearing in a chateau in the mountains or wherever you have it," Kessler says.
Some celebrities who have used private judges include Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Pamela Anderson and Michael Jackson.
Vowell, who served 18 years on the bench, says when he became qualified to be a private judge, the criticism that only the rich can afford one bothered him. But he came around to the reasoning that private judges ultimately help everyone.
"When private judges handle complex cases and matters involving more money than the average case, it does at least clear up the cases from public judges, and so it speeds up the process for all litigants," Vowell says.
The cost. It varies depending on the judge, who can set his or her own fees, and the complexity of the case. As one might expect, a private judge can cost thousands of dollars. Kessler says he typically sees private judges charge $500 to $700 an hour. On the other hand, according to the website for Private judge Donald A. Cox, a private civil hearing in central Ohio costs $150, a sum that even cash-strapped couples could likely scrape up. Traveling farther or conducting a hearing via Skype is $200. But if you want Cox's services for the entire day, it'll cost you $1,900.
If you're going to hire a private judge, "do your homework before making a selection. Although basic information is available online, the best information will come from practicing attorneys in the community," cautions Chris Bottcher, an attorney in Birmingham who has worked with Vowell. Or you may find that your legal representative isn't much help. As Bottcher observes, "Private judging is a relatively new practice, and many lawyers are unfamiliar with it."
And in some instances, such as a contentious divorce, it may behoove you to stick with a public courtroom. "A private judge may not be appropriate, though, when a party is belligerent or has been violent," Kessler says. "Someone who must be reined in by authority may feel they have unlimited ability to argue or raise their voice when the environment is too informal. There some times when the decorum and formality of the courtroom are not replaceable."