Justices reject suspension for judge who locked up kids
Pontiac – The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday against suspending or fining Oakland Circuit Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca for her behavior during a controversial child custody case that got international attention.
The justices decided against a 30-day unpaid suspension and a fine of $12,553 recommended by the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, ruling that the appropriate sanction for Gorcyca was public censure.
The case, which created an outcry on social media, concerned three Bloomfield Hills children – aged 13, 10 and 9 – who Gorcyca ordered into Children’s Village for contempt of court after defying her order to have a relationship with their father, Omer Tsimhoni.
Tsimhoni, who was involved in a long, contentious custody battle with his ex-wife, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, had been granted visitation privileges with the children but complained his former spouse had turned them against him.
“We order the respondent be publicly censured for committing judicial misconduct under the understandably difficult circumstances of the underlying divorce and ongoing custody matter,” the justices concluded. “(Gorcyca) ... became admittedly frustrated and exasperated at a June 24, 2015 hearing when attempting to convince three children to participate in parenting time with their father. Under these circumstances we agree with the commission that respondent exhibited a lack of judicial temperament during the proceedings in open court...”
The Supreme Court also found Gorcyca committed a legal error by holding the children in contempt and ordering them to be confined in the county’s juvenile facility and leaving in the hands of their father, who was out of the country, the “ability of the children to purge themselves of civil contempt.”
The case involved more than 100 pleadings and 40 hearings and at least 13 filings by the father and the guardian ad-litem appointed for the children regarding violations of court orders between 2011 and 2015. Court-appointed attorneys complained the situation was a case of parental alienation.
Gorcyca appointed separate attorneys for all three children and allowed them 30 minutes to consult with the youngsters before sending them to the county’s juvenile detention facility when they refused to have lunch with or even talk to their father.
The children were housed separately from abused children for two weeks and then transferred to a summer camp.
Gorcyca told the oldest boy he was “mentally messed up” and made comparisons with the behavior of his younger brother and sister, including what appeared to be communication with each other by tapping their feet.
She also made a circling gesture near her temple – often meant to indicate a person is unbalanced – when describing the oldest boy’s state of mind.
Gorcyca eventually recused herself from the case but has remained on the bench.
Six of the justices found that disparaging remarks made by Gorcyca towards the children and their mother were “insulting, demeaning and humiliating” and constituted misconduct by the judge.
They also found a suspension and fines were unnecessary but that censure was proportionate to the judicial misconduct. The justices also noted Gorcyca had never previously been accused of wrongdoing on the bench.
In a dissenting opinion, Justice Richard Bernstein said he felt Gorcyca’s actions involving the children were severe and that she deserved the 30-day unpaid suspension recommended by the JTC.