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Simpson's Former In-Laws Hoping to Avoid Custody Fight for Children : Courts: Monarch Beach couple, who seek guardianship of boy and girl, want murder suspect to name them as caretakers.

July 29, 1994|DAVAN MAHARAJ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ORANGE — The parents of Nicole Brown Simpson are hoping that O.J. Simpson will not contest their petition seeking legal guardianship of his two young children, the Brown family's attorney said Thursday.

The family wants the former football star to formally nominate the Browns as guardians of his daughter, Sydney, 8, and son, Justin, 5, said William M. Walker, a Santa Ana attorney who filed the guardianship petition for Nicole's father, Louis Brown.

Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran said he had not had a chance to discuss the Brown family guardianship request with Simpson, but added that relations between his client and the children's grandparents seemed solid. "I don't sense any rift," he said.

Simpson's lawyers did not return calls seeking comment on the guardianship papers filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court in Orange.

Members of the Brown family, who live in Monarch Beach, declined to talk about the petition.

Simpson has pleaded not guilty to charges that he murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Before his arrest, Simpson gave the Browns temporary custody of his children in a written authorization, Walker said.

The guardianship now being sought will "cloak the (grandparents) with the legal authority to do what they're doing now," the attorney said.

"We're trying to do what's best for the children," Walker said. "They've been with their grandparents (since their mother's murder), and they're comfortable with their grandparents. I've been told that they are doing as best as can be expected under the circumstances."

Walker said Louis and Juditha Brown are not trying to establish a permanent guardianship but one that is "reviewable whenever there is a change of circumstances."

A court investigator is expected to interview the grandparents and file a report on the children's current living arrangements for a Sept. 12 hearing before Supervising Probate Judge John Woolley.

A temporary guardianship would allow the Browns to make decisions for the children, such as enrolling them in school and providing emergency health care, Walker said.

If Simpson gets out of jail, he can petition the court to regain custody of his children, the attorney said.

Some legal experts said Thursday that judges routinely approve requests by grandparents for temporary custody in cases where parents are unable to care for their children.

Margie Davis, founder and director of Grandparents Offering Love & Direction, a statewide support group of grandparents who care for their children's children, said it appears that in the Brown guardianship petition "the court doesn't have much choice."

"What happens if O.J. ever gets out is another problem," said Davis, a 60-year-old San Diego County woman, who is caring for her three teen-age grandchildren. "But I've seen dozens of cases where the court feels obligated to let the children stay with their grandparents until the circumstances change."

Davis said the Browns are among a growing number of senior citizens in California--and across the nation--who are caring for their grandchildren.

The 1990 census reported that 673,000 children were living with relatives, mainly in the care of grandparents, Davis said.

"The foster-care system couldn't function, it would be extremely overburdened, if it didn't get such great support from grandparents," Davis said.

There are no firm statistics on the number of grandparents who, like the Browns, are raising their grandchildren.

But the Grandparent Information Center in Washington estimates that 3.2 million children nationwide live with grandparents or other relatives. In one-third of these households, neither parent is living in the home.

Nine months ago, the American Assn. of Retired Persons in Washington opened the Grandparents Information Center as a national referral service to assist the increasing numbers of older men and women who are raising their grandchildren.

Times staff writers Rebecca Trounson, Jim Newton and Leslie Berkman contributed to this report.

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