A woman charged with taking her child away from the man granted primary custody entered a plea of no contest Monday in Los Angeles Municipal Court.
Catherine F. Thomas, who was seized with her 5-year-old daughter in Pittsburgh, Pa., Sept. 17 after a seven-week disappearance, could have received up to three years in jail but instead faces probation and a possible order to make restitution to the legal father.
She had been convicted earlier of taking the child to Canada, and after the second disappearance she lost all custody rights.
The custody battle gained public attention last summer when a judge, recognizing a father-daughter relationship, granted primary custody to Kevin Thomas, an openly gay man who had baby-sat Courtney Thomas and took her to school daily. Although not the natural father, he had changed his last name to Thomas while helping Catherine Thomas, a single mother, raise the child in Van Nuys.
"I would not have followed this disposition of the case without the full approval of the victim, Kevin Thomas," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Linda Alcaldo. "He wants to do everything in the best interest of his daughter."
Michael Chaney of Westwood, one of Catherine Thomas' attorneys, said the district attorney's office "offered us a deal that is as good as it gets. The alternative would have been to reopen old wounds."
As it was, Municipal Judge Maral Injejikian ruled that the mother will have to serve 100 hours of community service within a year's time.
An electronic device that Catherine Thomas was required to wear to monitor her movements while on probation was ordered by the judge to be removed.
Pending another hearing, she faces a possible restitution order to cover Kevin Thomas' court expenses and the cost of the trip he made to Pittsburgh for the girl. Catherine Thomas was taken into custody at a Pittsburgh train station after another traveler recognized her and Courtney from a national television report.
Sentencing has been set for Jan. 11 in Superior Court when terms of her probation will be determined, said David Kestenbaum of Van Nuys, another attorney for Catherine Thomas.
Attorneys differed somewhat in characterizing the no-contest plea of the defendant. Chaney said that she pleaded no contest under a provision "in which the court allowed her to maintain her innocence while pleading no contest."
Alcaldo said that Thomas does not admit any guilt per se, and that it is in her best interest to enter this plea, but that technically she is found guilty by a judge.
In late September, after her return to Southern California, Thomas, 46, who also has two teen-age sons, said that she had fled the state with Courtney because one of her lawyers told her that Kevin Thomas was trying to persuade a judge to revoke her visitation rights.
The mother's request for a new custody trial has been refused by Los Angeles Superior Court. Attorneys have said they will take the case to the state appellate court.