A Pittsburgh judge ruled Tuesday that he has no jurisdiction in the bitter custody battle over 5-year-old Courtney Thomas and ordered that the girl be returned to Los Angeles, where her mother faces prosecution on charges of child stealing.
The Pennsylvania judge said that he sympathized with fugitive mother Catherine F. Thomas, but decided after a two-day hearing that he could not legally intervene in the unusual California case, in which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Martha Goldin awarded custody of the girl to a former family friend.
“She’s a loving parent, no question about it,” Allegheny County Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph Jaffe said of Thomas, who fled with her daughter July 29 and was caught last week in a Pittsburgh, Pa., train station.
An attorney for Thomas said she will not fight her extradition because she is eager to contest the felony charge and try to regain her parental rights. She was expected to be jailed upon her return to Los Angeles, attorney David S. Kestenbaum said.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the legal father, Kevin Thomas of Van Nuys, was preparing to go to court in Los Angeles to ensure that Courtney be placed in his custody, as Goldin ordered in June. Kevin Thomas has no biological tie to the girl, but changed his surname to match hers.
“We’re pleased,” Encino attorney Glen H. Schwartz said, adding that when Kevin Thomas and Courtney were reunited in Pittsburgh after a six-week separation, “the relationship was as if it had not been interrupted.”
Kevin Thomas, a 43-year-old bill collector who is openly gay, was once a close friend of Catherine Thomas and says they agreed to raise Courtney together after she was conceived with another man.
Although Catherine Thomas says he misrepresented his role as a frequent baby-sitter and lavish gift-giver to the girl, Kevin Thomas apparently persuaded the Los Angeles judge that he had played such and active role in Courtney’s daily care that the child considered him her father.
Under Jaffe’s order, Courtney was to fly back to Los Angeles on Tuesday night in the care of Allegheny County’s Children and Youth Services Department, and be accompanied by both parents, a social worker and a Pittsburgh police detective. Once here, she was to be turned over to Los Angeles County’s Department of Children’s Protective Services.
Jaffe said in a phone interview that Catherine Thomas came across very sympathetically but that she had reacted emotionally by fleeing with her daughter instead of accepting Goldin’s decision and trying to fight it through the courts.