Oakland County Family Court Judge Gets Amicus Assist
The case gained world-wide media attention in the summer of 2015 when Judge Gorcyca held the three Tsimhoni children in contempt of her court and put them in jail for refusing to spend time with their father pursuant to her orders. Judge Gorcyca has since recused herself from the case, but her contempt ruling has burgeoned into a challenge to her professional standing as a family court jurist courtesy of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission.
Last fall, a special master made a series of findings regarding how Judge Gorcyca handled the matter; several of those findings addressed Gorcyca's decision to use her contempt powers. Based on the special master's findings of misconduct, the JTC has recommended Judge Gorcyca be suspended.
As is her right, the judge has requested a trial -really an oral argument- before the Michigan Supreme Court; the argument has been scheduled for March. Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court granted the request of the Oakland County Bar Association and the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers to file an Amicus Curiae brief.
In the introductory paragraphs to the Amicus brief, the OCBA states:
It is often said: “In criminal cases, judges see bad people at their best; and in family law cases, judges see good people at their worst.” In family law, where emotions often run high, judges require both broad authority to issue orders and a full arsenal of powers to implement their orders. They cannot and should not be burdened by “political correctness”. Indeed, one of the cornerstones of our judicial system is the recognition that judges provide justice for all, including, when appropriate, supporting the minority or unpopular causes.The Amicus brief highlighted points of contention with two of the JTC's findings: 1) the alleged intemperate comments made by Judge Gorcyca; and 2) the alleged error in the mechanics of her contempt ruling.
Characterizing the proceedings as a "disingenuous prosecution", the Amicus concluded, and we here at the Law Blogger wholeheartedly agree, that Judge Gorcyca, in the worst case, made an error of law; she did not transgress judicial norms or canons; she did not commit judicial misconduct.
At the heart of the Amicus brief is the rationale that if judges are subjected to punishment based on their substantive rulings, then a chilling effect will seep into the judicial fabric of our county court system like a damp cold fog. This chilling fog will distort the mechanism of justice for many families at the very time they need the county family court the most.
This blogger recently experienced the chilling effect of the Gorcyca case first hand. During argument in a parental alienation case, we represented the target parent, attempting to break through a stubborn wall of parental alienation. In her reluctance to enforce the terms of a previously entered parenting order, the family court judge specifically referenced Judge Gorcyca's case.
For all of these reasons, we here at the Law Bogger sincerely hope that the Michigan Supreme Court is persuaded by the OCBA's amicus brief. Errors of law belong in the Court of Appeals, not before the Judicial Tenure Commission.