I want to be clear about something. I HATE judges like this lady. She acted like a bully, she was utterly biased toward one side to the point where she should have been recused, and she abused her position of authority to beat up on three children – one as young as 9. Courtroom experiences like this make lawyers hate the practice of law, hate judges, hate the judicial system and dream of walking out on their practices to sell flip flops in Costa Rica (thats for you Danny Rosenberg… hehe!).
Unfortunately for the judge at the center of this debacle, she was dealing with tough Israeli kids who aren’t going to let themselves be bullied – especially when they know they didn’t do anything wrong.
Specifically, I’m talking about Judge Lisa Gorcyca, of Oakland County, Michigan, in the matter of Maya Tsimhoni v. Omer Tsimhoni… which is a bitter divorce case riddled with allegations of parental kidnapping, domestic violence by the father against the mother, and three children ages 15, 10, and 9 who have been caught in the middle for the past five years.
What Happened to the Tsimhoni Children?
In her own words, Judge Gorcyca ordered the Tsimhoni children – Liam 15, Rowi 10, Natalie 9, to “have a relationship” with their father and “to talk” to their father. To be clear, this wasn’t a suggestion or some friendly advice. It was an actual order from the judge.
Except that these kids are completely estranged from their father. According to 15 year old Liam, he does not want anything to do with his father because he claims his father is violent and he has seen his father hit his mother.
On June 24, Judge Gorcyca brought these three children into her courtroom – because they haven’t been through enough after 5 years of acrimonious divorce – and literally GRILLED them like they were criminals testifying in a murder trial. Here are some excerpts from the transcript of the Tsimhoni hearing:
LIAM TSIMHONI (Age 15): Okay, so I — I do apologize if I — I didn’t understand that the rules of the — like the — with — with — like apologize to whatever I did to you, but I do not apologize for — for not talking to him because I have a reason for that and that’s because he’s violent and he — I saw him hit my mom and I’m not gonna talk to him.
JUDGE GORCYCA: All right. Well, the court finds you in direct contempt. I ordered you to have a healthy relationship with your father… I’m ordering you to spend the rest of the summer — and we’ll review it when school starts, and you may be going to school there. So you’re going to be — I’m ordering you to Children’s Village. Is there anything you’d like to say about that?
LIAM TSIMHONI (Age 15): I didn’t do anything wrong.
JUDGE GORCYCA: No, you did. 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 to I’m finding you guilty of civil contempt.
LIAM TSIMHONI (Age 15): But he was the one that… How come — I thought there was like rules when — rules for like not, you know, not hitting someone, why am I going to the —
JUDGE GORCYCA: I ordered you — I will say this again, and apparently you’re — you’re suppose to have a high IQ, which I’m doubting right now because of the way you act, you’re very defiant, you have no manners, I ordered you to have a relationship with your dadder — with your dad… Your father is well liked and loved by the community, his co-workers, his family, his colleagues. You, young man, have it wrong. I think your father is a great man who has gone through hoops for you you have a relationship with you. You are in contempt and are going to live in Children’s Village… You may stay there until you graduate from high school.
So much can be said about this interaction. First of all, the judge’s job is to make rulings about custody and child support. Not act as relationship police for the Tsimhoni family. This is especially so when a child reports to the court that he has witnessed domestic violence in the home. I don’t know about you, but he seems to have verbalized a pretty good reason for not wanting to talk to his father.
At the same time, it is clear from her comments, that Judge Gorcyca is clearly biased in favor of the Dad. She believes he’s a great man, that he’s loved by the community, and that he has done wonderful things.
But it gets worse. Here are some more brief excerpts where Judge Gorcyca continues to berate and mentally mess with this kid:
JUDGE GORCYCA (to Liam Tsimhoni): …you need to do research 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.
Who talks to children like that? Especially when you are not the parent?
Judge Gorcyca then ordered that Liam is not allowed to have any contact with his mother or any member of her family while he is incarcerated. The only visitation he can have is from his father, his therapist, his attorney, and anyone his dad chooses to bring in. Clearly, this is a very one-sided ruling in favor of the father.
Judge Gorcyca then turned her attention to Rowie, age 10.
During this encounter, the poor kid was forced to apologize for his behavior and regurgitate a prepared script to his dad to the effect of “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.”
When I read that, I felt like he was some POW marched in front of a “court” and forced to confess his crimes against the People’s Communist Republic of Whatever and read from a prepared script about how great he’s being treated while in captivity and why America is this great satan.
Of course the circumstances and the words are different, but what this judge doesn’t realize is that marching a 10 year old before a court to confess his sins and read off some bullshit to his dad, after 5 years of hellish divorce, is absolutely traumatizing.
After holding off on a decision about Rowie, Judge Gorcyca turned her attention to 9 year old Natalie.
This lovely interaction kicked off with 9 year old Natalie’s lawyer throwing her under the bus before the judge interacted with Rowie. I couldn’t believe it when I read it. Here’s how the lawyer opened up:
MS. COOK: …Your Honor, I’ve had an opportunity to talk to Natalie and told her the consequences of not being respectful to the court and to court orders, and told her what Children’s Village was like, which I have a very good acquaintance with, and told her my best legal advice would be for her to apologize for whatever she did. I don’t have a complete narrative on everything she’s done, and shes absolutely refusing to cooperate even with me.
WTF? How is 9 year old Natalie even supposed to comprehend what is meant by the terms “my best legal advice.” Really, people? This child is supposed to know what that means and make an informed decision? Can she even dress herself in the morning? Would you trust her alone with matches? Or a gun? Or to drive you home from a bar?
What the hell is wrong with these people?
I am MORE disappointed with the shitty lawyering in this case than even the abusive judge. If I was representing these kids in court I would be standing on the table screaming at the top of my lungs.
In 25 pages of transcript I saw the word “objection” uttered ONE TIME by one lawyer. Not one of them argued in favor of their client. Not one of them stood up to that judge or fought back. They all gave in and fed those kids to the lion.
These people aren’t lawyers. They are cowards and it makes me sick.
I have fought hard in the courtroom for 15 years and I would rather go down as a hero who himself was held in contempt before I went home knowing my 9 year old little girl client was taken into custody.
Later in the transcript Judge Gorcyca took to berating Natalie, threatened her with jail, and even told her that she would have to use the toilet in front of other people.
As an aside, I’m wondering how this judge would sentence a sex offender who uttered the same words to a 9 year old girl.
The Real Issue
While the rulings in this case are unusual, the judge’s behavior is one I have seen countless times before. It happens mostly when judges are frustrated. It happens when judges get too close to a case and when their rational brain is overtaken by their emotional one.
This behavior patterns is best described as a toxic mix of ego, frustration, and the power to make people eat it – even kids.
I don’t know how they educate judges in Michigan, but in Florida judges are taught to take a self-imposed timeout when they feel that frustration begin to boil over. Its very simple – when you feel that pulse rise and know you are about to do or say something you might regret, you simply WALK OFF THE BENCH. Take ten, have a glass of water, pace in your chambers and curse outload. Then return to the lives you will be effecting in the courtroom once you have cooled off.
In this case, Judge Gorcyca failed in her duty by failing to control herself. This lead to a systemic breakdown when the lawyers failed to do their job too.
I have news for you… if you are a trial attorney who has never been threatened with contempt, then you are not doing your job. Our clients do not hire us to agree with the judge. Our clients do not hire us to play nice in court and apologize.
Obviously there is a place for manners and grace. When a lawyer does or says something wrong, he/she should own up to it. I have apologized in court to judges countless times. No one faults you for being human.
But in this case, the lawyers cowered to the judge and they didn’t fight for these kids… and that makes me sick.
It is clear from reading the transcript that Judge Gorcyca is biased toward the father in this case. While she berates the mother and describes her as brainwashing the children, she describes the father as a great man who is loved by the community. She then orders that 15 year old Liam cannot have contact with his mother or anyone in her family while he is locked up. Yet she orders that the dad and anyone in the dad’s family can have contact with him.
In other words, this judge lost her role as an impartial decision maker.
She took a side at some point in time. When that happens she needs to realize it and recuse herself… and if she doesn’t, for GODSAKES, the lawyers have got to stand up, open their mouths, and make a motion. If the motion to recuse is denied, then APPEAL it.
I also take issue with Judge Gorcyca’s role in all this. She isn’t the relationship police. While she is certainly there to rule on matters relating to custody and child support, if the kids do not want anything to do with their father, that is their prerogative. Additionally, if you are going to put the onus on any party to have a relationship, YOU PUT IT ON THE DAD – not the 9, 10, and 15 year old kids!
Has she considered that these kids are acting out because they are hurting real bad on the inside? Maybe dad needs to earn their trust again? Maybe dad needs to make amends in a manner that is satisfactory to them.
Divorce doesn’t end for children when they leave the courthouse. They live with it 24/7. It sits with them at the kitchen table. Its spoken in front of them in the living room. It is next to them in school and it runs with them on the playground. They can hear mom discuss “the divorce” with her family and friends and while they try to shut it out, they cant – because they are just kids.
I am so offended by what this judge did because she ignored their reality as children.
I will also add that I know I do not know every detail of this case and I am 100% sure these tough Israeli kids were more than mouthy to this judge. I am equally sure mom has done her job to sway them against the father.
What else is new in family court? This is what happens in divorce. While this may be an extreme case, it still must be handled the right way. Not the crazy way.
Finally, I will add that the judge seems to have made two overt legal errors, beyond an abuse of her discretion. First, she immediatley held the children in contempt and sentenced them without a formal contempt hearing where their attorneys had the opportunity to be prepared and mount a defense. Before a person can be held in contempt, they have the right to a Due Process hearing.
Second, I don’t know the law in Michigan, but in Florida, each act of contempt is punishable my a maximum of 180 days in the county jail. In the case of Liam, Judge Gorcyca threatened to incarcerate him at the juvenile facility for the next three years. He would have been better off getting arrested for a felony.
In other words, it appears as though she erred in the duration of the punishment for contempt and she did so in two ways. First, she articulated that it may last for years. Second, she never put a finite end to it. She left it open ended and depending on the progression of the children’s forced relationship with their father.
The whole thing is a mess.
By the way, you know how I know I’m right? Its because the judge has already back-peddled. According to the most recent news reports, following Judge Gorcyca’s horrible national press (btw she is an elected official whose re-election depends heavily on positive public opinion), she has ordered the children removed from the juvenile detention center and sent to summer camp.
At the end of the day, I strongly suspect this a judge that intimidates those that appear before her. I don’t know her personally, I have never been in her courtroom, and I may be 100% wrong about that suspicion.
BUT – in my experience, that is what I have seen in jurisdictions and courtrooms where the attorneys are afraid to fight. But the truth is, the attorneys are hired guns, they are the warrior class in modern society, and if a fight is whats needed to prevent an injustice – like the incarceration of a 9 year old girl – then its time to man up and take the hits when they come.
Ultimately, while the judge made very poor rulings in this case, I ultimately blame the attorneys for not fighting back.