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Child-Custody Hearing to Be Held for Girl, 5 : Courts: A judge will decide if she stays with her mother or is released to a Van Nuys man with whom she has no biological ties.

September 19, 1993|LESLIE BERGER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the continuing custody battle over 5-year-old Courtney Thomas of Thousand Oaks, a hearing has been scheduled Monday before a family court judge in Pittsburgh to determine whether the girl should be released to a man with no biological ties or left in the care of her mother, who is accused of child stealing.

The subject of an international search, fugitive mother Catherine F. Thomas was arrested with Courtney in Pittsburgh on Friday and the girl was to be released to her legal father, Kevin Thomas of Van Nuys, under the terms of a Los Angeles Superior Court order.

But sympathetic police helped the mother find a local attorney, who in turn obtained an emergency court order Friday night temporarily placing Courtney in the custody of the Allegheny County Department of Children and Youth Services.

Mother and child are being allowed to stay together at a shelter over the weekend, and Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph Jaffe will consider the matter Monday morning, authorities said.

If convicted of the felony child-abduction charge pending against her in Los Angeles, Catherine Thomas could face a maximum of three years in state prison and a $10,000 fine.

Pittsburgh attorney Patricia Diulus-Myers, who is representing Catherine Thomas, said Saturday she will try to convince Jaffe that Courtney does not want to be separated from her mother and is afraid of Kevin Thomas, a former family friend who won sole custody of the girl this summer although they are not genetically related.

Kevin Thomas and the girl's mother were never married and never lived together. She is a single mother of three. He is an openly gay bill collector who has lived with a male companion for more than 25 years.

A Pittsburgh psychologist has examined both Catherine Thomas and Courtney at length, Diulus-Myers said, "and he was concerned with separating the mother and child on an abrupt basis and giving her to Kevin last night."

Diulus-Myers said that Courtney "expressed some fears of that in my presence . . . of going with Kevin." She would not elaborate.

The child, who is mildly retarded and has other medical complications because of a rare congenital condition, was also being examined by physicians at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital, the attorney said.

Kevin Thomas, who was in Pittsburgh, could not be reached for comment Saturday. Neither could his attorney, Glen H. Schwartz of Encino.

Extradition of Catherine Thomas seems inevitable, her attorney said, although it was unclear where Courtney would live once her mother returns to California to face criminal charges.

Diulus-Myers said Courtney appeared "very definitely" comfortable with her mother. She described Catherine Thomas as "a very loving mother" and "very stable in view of her circumstances. Most people you would think would be falling apart, and she's holding herself together."

"I won't make a judgment on whether it was a responsible thing she did by leaving the jurisdiction" of California, Diulus-Myers continued. "However, we can't know how we would respond under the same circumstances."

Catherine Thomas and Courtney, on the run since July 29, were taken into custody at the Pittsburgh Amtrak station Friday morning after they were recognized by another traveler who saw a nationally aired TV program on the case the night before.

The court records are sealed in the extremely unusual case.

Catherine Thomas and Kevin Thomas have described themselves as former close friends who had a falling-out sometime before September, 1992, when he filed suit seeking paternity rights over Courtney.

Kevin Thomas contends that when Courtney was conceived out of wedlock, he and Catherine agreed to raise the child together. He legally changed his surname from McCain to Thomas in 1988 after the child's birth, and says he took such an active role in her daily care that she came to know him as "Daddy."

Catherine Thomas denies they ever had such an agreement, and says Kevin Thomas has greatly exaggerated his role as a friend and frequent baby-sitter. She says Kevin Thomas became obsessed with Courtney because he had no children of his own, and sued for paternity rights when she moved from North Hills to Thousand Oaks in an attempt to put some distance between them.

After a five-day, closed hearing in June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin formally recognized the father-daughter relationship between Kevin Thomas and Courtney and then granted him sole physical custody of the child.

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