Correct decision isn't always the right one

December 23, 1996|By Susan Reimer

O.J. SIMPSON has been given custody of his two children and it is the correct decision.

He signed Sydney and Justin over to his wife's parents from his jail cell in the summer of 1994, but this was only to be a temporary guardianship.

He was acquitted of murder by a jury in October 1995 and in a statement read by his older son, Jason, Simpson said, "My first obligation is to my young children, who will be raised the way Nicole and I had always planned."

Simpson could have left the courthouse and picked up the kids without so much as pausing to take his wallet and watch out of the manila envelope his jailers handed him.

But he did not.

Saying that he did not want to disrupt their academic year at a private school in Laguna Beach, Simpson took the children only on weekends. He asked that they return to live with him in the summer and re-enroll in their Los Angeles school this fall.

The parents of their murdered mother, Juditha and Louis Brown, balked and asked that the kids stay with them for half the summer. From there, whatever cooperation that existed between Simpson and his in-laws broke down and the matter went to court in November.

The proceedings in Judge Nancy Wieben Stock's courtroom were closed, the record has been sealed and everyone connected with it has been banned from speaking publicly. The judge's decision is the only thing we know for certain. Her decision allowed a father to reunite his family after a jury found him not guilty of a crime.

O. J. has the kids and it is the correct decision.

But it is not the right decision.

The O. J. custody trial, like the O. J. murder trial, has raised the lid on another bit of fetid business in this country.

Through the murder trial we found out about how the races really feel about each other; in what undeserved esteem we hold superstar athletes; the powerlessness of battered women, and the role of money in the dispensation of justice.

Likewise, the custody trial has its own bitter lesson: There is no balance between the rights of the natural parent and the best interests of the children in family law in this country. It has shown that our courts will doggedly preserve a family, no matter how toxic the family.

And the custody trial has shown, once again, that judges and parents, and even children's advocates, are grown-ups. And the grown-ups will do what they always do, which is talk among themselves and do what they think is best for the kids without thinking about the kids.

O. J. Simpson does not deserve to raise his children. Not because he was accused of killing their mother. That was not proved. But because he beat her. That was. With gruesome pictures and the recordings of hysterical telephone calls and the testimony of police.

Whether or not that means Simpson will beat the children is not clear. Evidence is mixed on whether wife batterers are necessarily child beaters. But these children have witnessed their father's beating their mother or they have seen the results. To know that your mother has been badly hurt is trauma enough. To know that your father did it can only be devastating.

But we are hell-bent on preserving the family in this country and so Sydney, now 11, and Justin, 8, will be removed from their grandmother's home and placed in the care of their natural father for no other reason than he is their natural father. Graphic evidence of domestic violence was not enough to remove minor children from his care. That he beat their mother is not enough to render him an unfit parent in the eyes of the law.

For 2 1/2 years, the Browns cooperated with Simpson in maintaining a relationship with the children. He was reportedly free to see them or have them visit whenever he wished. The Browns were not seeking a termination of his parental rights or to deprive him of visitation. If that had been the case, the judge would be right to require extraordinary proof of his unfitness.

But it was not, and therefore the judge should have balanced O. J.'s right to send his kids off to school every morning against the right of Sydney and Justin to grow up a safe distance from a man who purges his anger through his fists.

Justin is reported to be his father's buddy, and he may always be that. But God protect Sydney if she ever turns on her father in adolescent rebellion, or if O. J. ever finds his beautiful daughter in a sexual embrace on the family room couch. If he breaks Sydney's jaw after she breaks a curfew, maybe then we will believe that the problems were not between O. J. and Nicole, but between O. J. and his anger.

I believe O. J. Simpson murdered his wife in a final, cold-blooded act of escalating domestic violence. The justice system was too ineffectual to protect Nicole, too corrupt to convict her killer.

It is no surprise that it will not protect her children.

Pub Date: 12/19/97

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