The Internet is abuzz this morning about Michigan Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, who berated three juvenile siblings in her court before sending them to juvenile detention. Their crime? They didn’t want to have lunch with their father. From the Detroit Free Press:
Three Oakland County children who refused to go to lunch with their father, as part of a bitter divorce and custody battle between their parents, are spending their summer in the county’s juvenile detention center, according to court records.
“We’ll review it when school starts, and you may be going to school there,” Oakland County Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca told the children during a June 24 hearing, referring to the center in Waterford Township called Children’s Village, where authorities house as many as 200 juvenile offenders.
Gorcyca, who blamed their mother for poisoning the children’s attitude toward their father, ordered the children be sent to the center for defying her orders — while in court — that they go to lunch with their father.
The children — ranging in age from 9 to 15 — were deemed in contempt of court last month by Gorcyca for disobeying her orders to “have a healthy relationship with your father.”
We’re already well into the absurd here. Even assuming the judge is correct that the mother is turning the kids against their father, why in the world would a judge punish the kids for that? Keep in mind, these kids aren’t accused of any crime. They’re accused of defying a judge who ordered them to have a relationship with their father. And they say this is because their father is abusive (which, again, is an accusation we have no way of knowing is true or false).
But it gets much, much worse. Gorcyca then seems to lose her temper — and all perspective. Here’s another account, from the Oakland County Daily Tribune:
An Oakland County circuit judge who sent three children to a juvenile detention facility for refusing to speak to their father compared the kids to cult leader Charles Manson.
Oakland Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca declared the children of Maya Tsimhoni in contempt of court last month and ordered them held at Oakland County Children’s Village until they attempt to have a relationship with their father or they turn 18.
The three — ages 9, 10, and 15 — have been incarcerated for more than two weeks . . .
“I do apologize if I didn’t understand the rules,” said one boy, 15, “but I do not apologize for not talking to (the father) because I have a reason for that and that’s because he’s violent and I saw him hit my mom and I’m not going to talk to him.”
The father has not been charged with a crime.
Gorcyca called the boy a “defiant, contemptuous young man” and asked him if there was anything he’d like to say about being sent to Children’s Village.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” the boy said.
“No, you did,” Gorcyca said.
“I ordered you to talk to your father. You chose not to talk to your father. You defied a direct court order. It’s direct contempt so I’m finding you guilty of civil contempt.”
The boy responded: “But he was the one that (did) something wrong. I thought there (were) rules .. for not hitting someone.”
“You’re supposed to have a high IQ, which I’m doubting right now because of the way you act,” Gorcyca said.
“You’re very defiant. You have no manners … There is no reason why you do not have a relationship with your father . . .
It then got especially weird.
“You need to do a research program on Charlie Manson and the cult that he has … You have bought yourself living in Children’s Village, going to the bathroom in public, and maybe summer school.”
Gorcyca forbid the mother or anyone from her side of the family from visiting the boy.
A review hearing was scheduled for Sept. 8.
“You are so mentally messed up right now and it’s not because of your father,” Gorcyca said.
“And one day you are going to realize what’s going on in this case and you’re going to apologize to your dad … Dad, if you ever think that he has changed and he’s no longer like Charlie Manson’s cult, then you let us know and we can (review the case).”
Gorcyca refused to allow Tsimhoni to say goodbye to her son or to convince him to speak with his father.
The judge then began threatening the other children.
Tsimhoni’s two other children had a hearing later in the day, during which the 10-year-old boy did speak briefly to his father.
“Judge, I’m sorry for my behavior, and dad, I’m sorry for my behavior,” he said.
“Dad, the judge wanted me to talk to you so here is something about myself ? I enjoy soccer and I hope to be on the soccer team.”
A girl, 9, was asked if she would also like to apologize to her father, but she had no audible response.
“I know you’re kind of religious,” Gorcyca told the girl.
“God gave you a brain. He expects you to use it. You are not your big, defiant brother who’s living in jail. Do you want to live in jail?”
The girl said she would try to work with her father during visits, and Gorcyca told the children to go to lunch with their father.
“Let’s see, you’re going to be a teenager,” Gorcyca told the girl.
“You want to have your birthdays in Children’s Village? Do you like going to the bathroom in front of people? Is your bed soft and comfortable at home? I’ll tell you this, if you two don’t have a nice lunch with your dad and make this up to your dad, you’re going to come back here (after lunch) and I’m going to have the deputies take you to Children’s Village.”
The other brother and sister said they didn’t want to have lunch with their father, either, so Gorcyca sent them to juvenile detention, too. She then forbade the boy from contacting their brother while they’re there. She also ordered that they have minimal contact with one another. And they’ve apparently been there ever since.
Yesterday, the New York Observer published an interview with the kids’s father. The tone of the article indicates that the Internet mobs got this wrong, and that the interview will provide some ameliorating context. But it really doesn’t. The father provides a plausible argument that the mother has turned the children against him. But it doesn’t remotely vindicate Gorcyca’s brutish behavior. Either the father beat the mother, the mother has convinced the kids of this or the kids are lying about it because they simply don’t like their father. Under all three scenarios, berating three kids between the ages of 9 and 15, comparing them to Charles Manson, threatening them with humiliation, then taking away their freedom is behavior that ought to result in this judge getting removed from the bench. It’s also bizarre that the father seems completely unfazed by the judge’s unconscionable behavior. If he expressed any anger over it during the interview, it didn’t make it into the article.
In this interview from late last year, Gorcyca credits her husband for encouraging her to become a judge. Her husband is David Gorcyca, the former Oakland County DA (where Lisa Gorcyca is a judge). Before becoming a judge, Lisa Gorcyca was a prosecutor in that same office. Last year, David Gorcyca was found personally liable for a $1 million judgment against the parents of an autistic girl. He had tried to prosecute her father for sexual assault. From the Detroit Free Press:
Gorcyca was prosecutor in 2007 when he charged Julian Wendrow of West Bloomfield with raping his severely autistic daughter and charged Wendrow’s wife, Thal, with child abuse for failing to prevent the attacks.
The girl’s disablity prevents her from speaking or writing and the allegations of rape were made through a controversial method known as facilitated communication, in which a teacher’s aide holds the girl’s arm over a keyboard to help her type responses to questions. Critics insist that the aide is the author of the typed messages, either conciously or subconsciously.
The criminal case against the Wendrows collapsed after the method was tested in court by asking the girl questions out of earshot of her facilitator. She couldn’t answer a single question correctly.
Gorcyca eventually dropped the charges but not until Julian Wendrow had served 80 days in jail and the family had been separated for months. Gorcyca left office in December 2008 after deciding not to seek re-election.
Gorcyca had absolute immunity from any liability for bringing the charges. He lost the lawsuit because he continued to defame the family after he had left office. Ultimately, Oakland County paid out more than $6 million to settle the lawsuit.
Four years ago, he pled no contest to two counts of professional misconduct for public statements he made implicating a kindergarten teacher in the sexual assault of two children. The teacher was convicted but ultimately vindicated and released after a Free Press investigation found significant flaws in the case. The teacher spent three years fighting the charges, including six months in jail. Columnist Brian Dickinson pointed out at the time that Oakland County paid more than $200,000 in legal fees for Gorcyca’s lawyers, who managed to help him avoid any professional discipline. Meanwhile, the county pays an average of $525 to poor people accused of crimes who can’t afford a lawyer.
In some ways, Lisa Gorcyca is just a symptom of a wider problem — the use of the criminal justice system to address problems that are better addressed by parents, communities, religious institutions and families. (See this timely Huffington Post investigation of other kids caught up in Michigan’s criminal justice system.) But I don’t know that her actions in this case can really be attributed to her merely being a cog in a flawed system. She straight-up bullied these kids. Even if it’s true that they had been brainwashed, her behavior was way over the line. The judge who was supposed to protect them then terrorized them more.
Perhaps Gorcyca is under a lot of stress. She certainly seems to have faced a lot of hardship recently — in addition to the judgment against her husband, the interview linked above references a battle with breast cancer. But whatever the cause, her actions in this case alone show that she’s unfit to be a judge, least of all a family court judge.