The Power of a Family Court Judge
Yet that is where three young Oakland County siblings wound-up over the past two weeks when they refused to comply with Judge Lisa Gorcyca's ruling that they spend parenting time -a lunch- with their father. The three minors were housed among the unruly teens that have seriously run afoul with the law at a very young age.
The case is a headline-grabber and we here at the Law Blogger expect that it will acquire some national media legs by the weekend now that Fox2 News broke the story on their evening newscast last night.
The facts are simple enough: after a series of protracted court hearings to litigate parenting issues, the children were ordered to spend time with their father; when they refused, they were confined to the Village for civil contempt of court. Family law judges do have powers over all those folks under their jurisdiction, including both parents and all the children in a divorce proceeding.
This case is different because it features putting the children, rather than the recalcitrant parent, into confinement. Judge Gorcyca, no doubt frustrated when the siblings became obstructionist -perhaps with their mother's encouragement- elected to exercise some of that power as a sanction for the contempt shown for her parenting order. Were other options available on the family judge's menu? Yes, of course there were; but this is the one she chose.
Over the years, we have seen the dynamic of older children faced with court-ordered parenting schedules they deem onerous. The well known rule-of-thumb in the industry is that the older the child, the more difficult it is to get him or her to comply with a distasteful court order.
But the Tsimhoni children are relatively young [ages 14, 10 and 9]; apparently, they banded together in defiance of the judge. This defiance has been honed from protracted disputes between the parents for the past five years.
The Tsimhoni case, grinding on since December 2009, features a long-list of family court professionals well-known in the industry, brought into the divorce proceeding to assist with the deep-seated and seemingly irresolvable parenting disputes. The case has featured pitched allegations of parental alienation and kidnapping.
Here is a copy of the GAL William Lansat's report to the family court judge, posted online as the story was breaking. The GAL report sets out the context within which the judge made her decision.
When an emergency motion to readdress the children's incarceration was denied by Judge Gorcyca, an appeal was lodged and a petition for a writ of habeas corpus was filed Monday by the mother's new law firm. A petition for habeas corpus alleges that a person is being incarcerated by the state in violation of a constitutional right.
Even though Judge Gorcyca, obviously frustrated by the children's defiance of her parenting order, placed the children into the Village until they emancipate at age 18, we predict they will be released shortly. The question here is whether their inevitable release comes at the hands of Judge Gorcyca or through some other jurist.
Family court judges have vast powers at their disposal. This case will stand as an example of the measured limits of those powers.
July 9th Post Script: As we predicted, a two-hour hearing was conducted by Judge Gorcyca yesterday, which concluded with her ruling that all three children should be released from the confinement of Children's Village.
For those among our readers that are students of the family court and for the family law professionals, here are two comprehensive articles in the Detroit News that provide a more detailed context for the judge's decisions in the Tsimhoni case. Take a look here, and here. Of course, the two top writers for the Freep joined in: Brian Dickerson and Mitch Albom. The Observer published an interview with the father.
The case, now making huge traction on the State Bar of Michigan's family law listserv, features articles that have posted large chunks of the critical hearing that led to the children's commitment to the Village. Here is an example from the Daily Tribune.
September 9th Post Script: Continuing to deliver headlines, this case featured a hearing today that resulted in the Court being advised that the Tsimhoni children successfully completed their court-ordered stint in a summer camp, have completed intensive therapy for parental alienation, and have been reunited with their father. The court has scheduled a hearing for October to determine whether Mother's physical custody of the children should be switched to Father. The court file remains sealed.