O.J. Simpson was awarded full custody of his two young children Friday by a judge who ruled their grandparents had failed to show Simpson “would be clearly detrimental to their well-being.”
After a long and contentious custody battle between Simpson and his former in-laws, Louis and Juditha Brown, the judge found in Simpson’s favor after a secret custody trial in Orange County, where the Browns live.
“We love Sydney and Justin and pray for their safety and well-being as they return to their father,” the Brown family said in a statement released through their attorney, Natasha Roit.
Simpson issued a statement on behalf of his family saying, “We are all so very grateful today to have the children home again where they want to be.” He appealed to the media and the public to give the children privacy.
It wasn’t immediately clear when the children would be delivered to Simpson. Roit said the order provided no timetable and the Browns were strongly considering an appeal.
Sydney, 11, and Justin, 8, went to stay with their grandparents when Simpson was arrested in 1994 and charged with murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.
The Browns agreed at the time that Simpson could file to regain guardianship whenever he was cleared and released from jail.
But after a Los Angeles jury acquitted Simpson in October 1995, the Browns decided to try to keep the children. In addition to suing Simpson in civil court, claiming he was responsible for Nicole Simpson’s death, they contested custody in Orange County.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Nancy Wieben Stock ruled that the Browns had failed to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that custody by Simpson “would be clearly detrimental to their well-being.”
“The children share a relationship with their father that appears to be strong, positive, and healthy, with powerful psychological bonding,” Wieben Stock said in her ruling. “All experts who had the benefit of analyzing the children with all of their significant adults, came to the same conclusion on this point.”
Wieben Stock granted the grandparents visitation rights with the children and found that their relationship was stable and healthy and that regular visits would be in the children’s best interests.
Roit, the Browns’ lawyer, blasted the judge’s order, saying she ignored clear evidence of domestic violence by Simpson, and signs Simpson could become violent again. Roit also said the judge rejected the Brown family’s suggestion that she consider some evidence of the killings.
“It is illogical to us that she can decide a case on domestic violence … without considering the evidence of murder,” Roit said.
Wieben Stock said in her ruling she had considered evidence of Simpson’s domestic violence but found that “a review of Simpson’s history with the children does not yield a picture of a man who has in the past, or is likely in the future to lose control of himself in such a manner as to emotionally or physically harm his two young children.”
The children have been attending a private school in Laguna Beach while living at their grandparents’ seaside home near Dana Point. They have reportedly visited their father regularly on weekends and vacations.
Outside specialists in family law agreed the case had few precedents, if any.
“A father is accused of murdering the mother, is acquitted and is then sued for wrongful death of the mother. I’m sure it’s happened someplace in the United States, but I’m not sure where,” said Sorrell Trope, a Los Angeles family law attorney for more than 48 years.
Courts generally presume that children belong with a parent, meaning it was up to the Browns to show that Simpson was unfit, said Trope and other experts.
Even testimony that Simpson hit his former wife wouldn’t necessarily have ruled him out, said Trope and other attorneys, although violence toward the children would have been another matter.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Michael Fleeman Associated Press
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