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Peers Defend Jurist's Custody Ruling

Law: Presiding judge says Nancy Wieben Stock could not predict tragic deaths in 1991 case. Critics are not swayed.

February 08, 1997|ANNA CEKOLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Local judges released transcripts Friday they say show a colleague made a legally sound decision when she granted joint custody of two young children to their emotionally troubled mother--who police believe last week killed the youngsters before taking her own life.

But the evidence presented at the unusual forum on behalf of Orange County Superior Court Judge Nancy Wieben Stock did not placate Denise Brown and others who remain outraged at the jurist's December decision to grant O.J. Simpson custody of his two youngest children.

"Two children are dead," said Denise Brown, sister of Simpson's slain wife, Nicole Brown Simpson. Standing outside the building where the judges held a press conference, Brown asked about the safety of her niece and nephew who are now in the care of their father: "What's going to happen to our kids?"

Such heated comments and controversy over Wieben Stock's decisions prompted the local legal community to voice support for the judge in the face of a threatened recall.

Judges and attorneys describe Wieben Stock as one of the most qualified jurists in Orange County, a former federal prosecutor who is being considered for a seat on the 4th District Court of Appeal here.

Presiding Orange County Superior Court Judge Theodore E. Millard said it was unfair to hold Wieben Stock responsible for a tragedy that could not have been reasonably foreseen when she made the custody decision in 1991.

Millard said he personally reviewed the case and could find no reason why Wieben Stock should have believed that Marcia Amsden-Kyle would harm her children and others.

"We're all human beings and I'm sure we all share the grief of the tragedy that occurred," Millard said. "But . . . we can't predict the future. I've reviewed the whole file and there's not one hint that [the mother] ever posed any kind of physical threat to the well-being of the children involved."

According to Wieben Stock's supporters and court records, the judge was following the recommendation of an experienced psychologist when she granted joint custody to the couple.

The psychologist had said Amsden-Kyle exhibited hostile and aggressive personality traits that might be harmful to the self-esteem of her children, and should not have sole custody.

The judge noted in the ruling that the mother's "emotionality" and other factors could place the children at "high risk" should she receive sole custody. Since the ruling, court officials said Jeffrey Kyle had not been able to assume the shared custody, leaving Amsden-Kyle as main caretaker.

Sheriff's deputies last week found the bodies of Amsden-Kyle, Tarah Leigh Kyle, 7, and Storm Cameron Kyle, 9, in a car on a desolate dirt road near Amsden-Kyle's parents' home in Riverside. Police also found Amsden-Kyle's boyfriend, Matthew Stephen Bailey, 28, dead in the Anaheim condominium the couple shared.

Wieben Stock has not been available for comment.

Supporters of the judge said Friday that jurists must be able to follow the law and make independent decisions without fear of reprisal.

"The role of the court is to follow the law, not public opinion," said Orange County Superior Court Judge William F. McDonald, president of the California Judges' Assn., which participated Friday along with the Orange County Bar Assn.

"If a judge is corrupt, I say recall the judge," said attorney Jennifer Keller, the past bar president. "If the judge is committing crimes, recall the judge.

"But if the judge makes an unpopular but legally sound decision, it is absolutely wrong."

In the Simpson case, Wieben Stock's decision was in keeping with the laws that generally favor parents in such disputes, legal experts said.

Sydney Simpson, 11, and her 8-year-old brother, Justin, had been living in Dana Point with their maternal grandparents, Lou and Juditha Brown, since Simpson was charged with the 1994 murder of their mother and Ronald Goldman.

Simpson was acquitted and sought to regain custody. Earlier this week, he was found liable by a Santa Monica civil court jury for the two slayings.

Tammy Bruce, president of the Women's Progress Alliance, said she's confident Orange County residents will support the recall effort that she is organizing.

"We're fed up with judges who make decisions that are contrary to the law, flying in the face of basic common sense and human dignity, and place children in danger," she said.

The group will hold an organizational meeting Monday at 7 p.m. at the Huntington Beach Central Library Room E, 7111 Talbert Ave.

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