Siblings thrown in juvie hall for refusing to see dad

Mike Martindale and Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Correction: Earlier versions of this story had an incorrect age of the older child.

Pontiac — An Oakland County judge who sent three children to a juvenile detention facility for failing to maintain a "healthy relationship" with their father calls the case one of the worst examples of parental alienation she's ever seen, according to court records.

Judge Lisa Gorcyca ordered the children — ages 9, 10 and 14 — to Children's Village on June 24 for civil contempt of court after they refused to have lunch with or talk to their father. The children's parents have been involved in a contentious divorce dispute since 2009.

The children's predicament spawned protests on social media, and a small rally of children and adults Wednesday at the Oakland County Courthouse.

According to a court transcript of the hearing, Gorcyca told the Bloomfield Hills family that "you need to do a research program on Charlie Manson and the cult that he has. Your behavior in the halls with me months ago, your behavior in court, your behavior back there is unlike any I've seen in 46,000 cases."

During the hearing, Gorcyca described the Tsimhoni case as "tied for my worst parental alienation case" on the bench.

The children — a 15-year-old boy, a 10-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl — are permitted visits with their father and attorney while at Children's Village, but not with their mother or her side of the family. The order states "the siblings are to be kept away from each other as much as possible."

Children's Village in Pontiac provides what the county website calls temporary, "out-of-home care, custody and treatment" to children under the jurisdiction of Oakland County courts.

The Detroit News isn't naming the children because they are juveniles.

According to the transcript, the judge described the 15-year-old as a "defiant and contemptuous young man" and at one point told him: "You have been brainwashed. This is not normal behavior."

The trouble apparently dates to 2009, when the children's mother, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, then an on-leave University of Michigan professor, filed for divorce from their father, Omer Tsimhoni, in Oakland County Circuit Court.

The couple, who married in 1995, have since been involved in extensive litigation and dozens of hearings over parenting time, therapy and other issues regarding the children. They are scheduled back in court before Gorcyca next Wednesday for an emergency hearing on the children's situation.

Their mother, who is a pediatric opthalmologist, now claims the children "are being restrained of their liberty" by Gorcyca's order and that the judge has exceeded her authority in finding "non-party children" in contempt of court.

Neither the mother nor her attorney, Lisa Stern, would comment on the case Wednesday, issuing a brief statement that it involved sensitive issues involving the children that they hoped would be worked out in court.

According to the court transcript, the 15-year-old apologized to Gorcyca but said he was not going to apologize to his father because he had done nothing wrong. He also alleged his father was violent and said he had seen him hit his mother, "so I'm not going to talk to him." Gorcyca reminded the boy that his father had never been charged with any offenses and that he loved his children and wanted to spend time with them.

The extensive court file indicates Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, 40, sought a personal protection order against her husband in 2010, claiming he threatened her and the children. The allegations were never substantiated and the petition was rejected without a hearing.

All three children have been involved in numerous counseling and therapy sessions to address family concerns, which included refusing to speak to or even look at their father, or touch food he had touched with his hands. The three were greatly influenced by their mother, according to court records.

Gorcyca's office said Wednesday the judge would have no comment on the Tsimhoni case while it was ongoing in her court.

Omer Tsimhoni, 45, could not be reached for comment Wednesday. His occupation in court records was listed as a General Motors engineer who lives most of the time in Israel. His attorney, Keri Middleditch, would not comment, but released a lengthy statement late Wednesday that blamed the children's mother for exploiting the children and failing to follow court orders.

"This situation is traumatic for everyone involved, and it is unfortunate that the children are in shelter care due to the actions of their mother," the statement said.

A 2007 newsletter from the UM Kellogg Eye Center said the mother was a pediatric glaucoma specialist there. According to the UM website, she was one of its physicians listed among the "Best Doctors in America 2007."

The court order to send the children to Children's Village was the latest in a series of court filings surrounding the couple's divorce. Eibschitz-Tsimhoni first filed for divorce after plans to relocate to Israel when her husband, a former Israeli Air Force pilot, accepted a job offer there in late 2008, federal court documents in Detroit show.

The couple reconciled months later then moved their family to Israel, but Eibschitz-Tsimhoni returned with the children to the United States in December 2009 and again sought a divorce, according to the filing.

Tsimhoni claimed the children's habitual residence was in Israel and they should be returned, but his bid was denied, according to court records. A judgment was entered in favor of Eibschitz-Tsimhoni in March 2010.

In the Oakland Circuit Court case, each of the children is represented by separate attorneys, "none of whom objected to the children's placement" at Children's Village, according to Middleditch's statement.

Larry Dubin, a law professor at University of Detroit Mercy School of Law who is not involved with the case, said he found Gorcyca's actions "unusual."

"The law is to operate in the 'best interests of the children'," Dubin said. "I find it hard to imagine how children being placed at Children's Village for any length of time is in their best interests."

But Henry Baskin, a well-respected family law attorney who has practiced in Metro Detroit for five decades, said people should not be quick to second-guess Gorcyca.

"This is not the usual event in a case, however it may have been the only thing she can do to enforce the parenting order," Baskin said. "I'm not certain, between the ex-husband and ex-wife, is it getting to the point where it's volatile? Maybe she is protecting the children from the harm caused between these two people."

Now that Gorcyca has taken the action of placing the children in county custody, it's time for the parents to come forward and agree to do what the judge wants to satisfy the parenting time order, Baskin said.

"I find the wrong people may be in jail. One of the parents belongs in Children's Village," he said.

Sherrie Singer, a neighbor and friend of the family, started a Facebook group Wednesday morning to bring attention to the case. By Wednesday afternoon it had more than 900 members.

"We want to free these children," Singer said. "It's a travesty what's going on. We have never heard of anything like this before."

Neighbor Karen Colby Weiner said she was sickened to learn the children who live next door to her were sent to juvenile hall. She described the children as lovely and bright. The oldest son plays piano beautifully, she said Wednesday evening.

"I wished Judge Gorcyca would talk with them (the children) about what they were afraid of rather than put them in that type of situation," she said.

Staff Writers Candice Williams and Mark Hicks contributed.