A judge’s job is to follow the law, not public opinion. But the turmoil surrounding the O.J. Simpson trials has swept up an Orange County Superior Court judge who in December awarded Simpson custody of two of his children, 11 and 8 years old.
Because of Judge Nancy Wieben Stock’s decision in the Simpson case and in another in which she awarded custody of two children to a mother who, police believe, six years later killed the children and took her own life, the judge faces a campaign to force a special election that would remove her from office.
In California, judges have wide discretion in determining the best interests of children and usually favor biological parents over foster care or adoption or custody by grandparents. The burden of those who are not parents is to show that parental custody will harm the children. After a four-week closed trial, Wieben Stock decreed that prospect had not been shown. She said that psychologists favored Simpson’s gaining custody, rather than Nicole Brown Simpson’s parents, as did a lawyer appointed to represent the children.
The judge ruled before Simpson was found responsible two weeks ago for the deaths of his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman in a civil trial. The judge said she did not wait for the outcome because under law the decision in the civil case would not be binding on a custody case.
Additionally, Wieben Stock was required to rule within 90 days after testimony ended in the custody case on Dec. 11, and she noted that in the event of appeals, Simpson’s civil trial could take years to reach its legal conclusion. Lawyers also said custody cases take priority over other legal proceedings and delaying the custody matter could leave children uncertain about their futures, to their detriment.
If an appeal is filed on the custody case, a judge will consider whether there is “clear and convincing evidence” that the children will be harmed by remaining with Simpson. And that is precisely what Wieben Stock did.
Recalls should be reserved for cases where an office holder is corrupt, mentally incompetent or clearly unable to perform the job. The process is not to be undertaken lightly, out of a desire for vengeance or based on one or a handful of votes or judgments. Let’s save removal attempts for regularly scheduled elections, which provide a chance to review an incumbent’s full record.