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Custody of Boy, 3, Awarded to Grandparents : Courts: Commissioner rejects mother’s bid for a delay pending an appeal. Her poverty was factor in the ruling, advocates contend.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a rare decision, a Ventura County court commissioner in a divorce case has awarded custody of a 3-year-old Simi Valley boy to the child’s paternal grandparents instead of either biological parent.

And Commissioner John R. Pattie on Tuesday refused the mother’s request to delay his order until the decision could be appealed.

Pattie based his decision in part on a psychological profile that described the mother in the case--Julie Gilmore, 20--as a woman who has exhibited “exclusively manipulative and sociopathic” behavior in the past, possibly related to a troubled childhood.

But advocates for Gilmore said the portrayal of her as sociopathic was not backed up by any evidence. They said they believe that she has been stripped of primary custody of Dillon Gilmore, 3, for one reason: She is poor.

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They compare the case to another family law decision last month by a Michigan judge that drew national attention. That case outraged feminists after the judge awarded custody of a 3-year-old girl to her father because the college student-mother had enrolled the child in day care.

Attorney Jill Hatfield, who represents Gilmore, said the Ventura County decision is more unusual than even the Michigan one because neither biological parent ended up with custody.

Others supporters of the mother agree.

“This is about this girl being poor, young and unmarried,” said Charlene Pizzadili, a representative of the National Organization for Women’s Ventura County chapter. “And when you’re poor, young and unmarried and come into the (judicial) system, this is what happens to you.”

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Pattie said in court Tuesday that money had nothing to do with his decision. He simply believed that the grandparents could provide the child with a more stable home than either the mother or father, Pattie said.

Pattie added that his decision is based on a court-ordered report by Camarillo psychologist Leonard Diamond, who examined both Gilmore and Dillon’s father, Michael Murphy, 21. It recommends against giving custody to either biological parent.

The report praises Gilmore for being a logical, competitive and self-confident person. “Julie Gilmore is bright, competent and very motivated to be a good parent to her child,” it says at one point.

But it also says she experimented with marijuana and cocaine prior to giving birth to Dillon and is the product of an unstable home life.

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“She has, in fact, been exclusively manipulative and sociopathic,” the report concludes. “This may have grown out of her negative and poor childhood or it may have grown out of the current circumstance.”

In an interview, Gilmore admitted that she “experimented” with drugs two years before her child was born, but points out that she has never been in any kind of trouble with the law. She denies using any drugs today and says she rarely drinks alcohol.

“If it’s hot and maybe I’m laying by the pool or something, I will have a beer,” she said. “And, usually, it’s not when my son is here. I don’t think I’m immature because I have an occasional beer.”

Gilmore said she was adopted and ran away from home when she was 13 because of an unstable family life. She is now a full-time student at American River College in Sacramento, studying early childhood development and hoping for a career working with children. Gilmore said she supports herself with monthly welfare benefits.

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Pattie declined to comment on his decision for this story, but stressed in court that the fact that Gilmore is poor and the paternal grandparents are middle-class played no role in his ruling.

An expert on family law said it is highly unusual for a court to award custody to grandparents in cases in which there are no allegations that the child has been put in any danger.

“Awards of custody to grandparents are exceedingly rare,” said Scott A. Altman, a family law professor at the USC law school, “particularly in the absence of allegations of (current) drug abuse or criminal activity or child abuse or neglect.”

Gilmore and Murphy became romantically involved while attending Simi Valley High School in 1990. She became pregnant, but the two split up before their child was born March 29, 1991.

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For the first 18 months of Dillon’s life, Julie said she raised her son alone in an apartment she shared with a roommate. Dillon’s paternal grandparents did not play a significant role until after she got a job when the child was 6 months old, Gilmore said.

Gilmore said she would drop her child off with the grandmother early in the morning and not pick him up until 10 at night, after work and adult basic learning classes in Los Angeles County.

“This is Dillon’s home virtually,” the grandmother, Jean Murphy, said in an interview. “He has spent most of his time here, on and off. This is his home base and where he feels secure.”

By August, 1992, when the child was about 18 months old, Gilmore and the boy’s father reunited and married.

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The marriage didn’t work out, though. The couple sought a divorce within six months.

And that is when the custody issue became sticky.

The court ordered them to split custody of the child from June, 1993, until July, 1994. In that arrangement, Dillon would spend two weeks with Gilmore, who by then had moved to Sacramento to be closer to a relative. Dillon’s other two weeks would be spent with his father--most of the time with his father’s parents, Jean Murphy said--in Simi Valley.

But both sides felt that those arrangements put an unnecessary burden on such a young child and the court reconsidered the setup.

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On July, 29, Pattie reached a decision: Primary custody would go to Jean Murphy and her husband, Dennis--and not to either of the biological parents.

Gilmore said she believes that Pattie made his decision based on her age and lack of life experience.

“It was because I was young. If I was their age, in my late 40s, I would have had a home for 23 years and a job for 23 years,” she said. “But that is what he looks at and says, ‘You (the grandparents) are suitable to raise my child.’ ”

Under Pattie’s order, Gilmore essentially is allowed to visit her son during her breaks from college and the boy’s father gets to visit him on the weekends.

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Hatfield asked Pattie on Tuesday to delay his order until she could file an appeal for Gilmore. But the attorney hired by the Murphys, Bruce G. Jones, applauded the commissioner for not giving in to Hatfield.

In court, Jones cited the psychological report as calling Gilmore “sociopathic.” He said Gilmore “uses and abuses others.”

“Let’s not look at this situation as this lady being a victim of anything,” he said. “She is a person who I do think loves her child. But love is not enough.”

Michael Murphy could not be reached Tuesday. But his mother said both her son and Gilmore “are too immature and not effective parents.”

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“It’s not our ultimate goal to take away custody from either of the (parents),” said Jean Murphy, who refers to her son and Gilmore as children.

“At this point,” she added, “this is where the stability is for Dillon.”

But Gilmore strongly disagrees. She said she raised her son the first three years of his life without any problems and wants to continue doing so.

“He is the only family I have,” she said.

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