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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Judge Gorcyca Censured But Not Suspended by Michigan Supreme Court

Oakland County Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca has to be feeling partly vindicated this morning in the wake of the Michigan Supreme Court's disposition of her judicial tenure matter. Judge Gorcyca challenged the findings and suspension recommendation of the Judicial Tenure Commission last year, appealing to the state's highest court.

The well-known case against Judge Gorcyca arose from her July 2015 decision in a post-judgment divorce matter involving the Tsimhoni family. Frustrated with a patent case of parental alienation and contempt of her court orders, Judge Gorcyca ordered the three Tsimhoni children confined to Children's Village.

Her fateful decision to incarcerate the Tsimhoni children, well within her powers as a family court judge, precipitated the judical tenure complaint. Yesterday, the Supreme Court summarized her predicament in Justice Brian Zhara's 54-page opinion:
The record is clear that as early as August 2010 these children embarked on a concerted effort to thwart meaningful interaction with their father and continued to do so despite respondent’s orders to the contrary. Regardless of their age, there is no question that during the intervening years, each child knew they were supposed to have visitation with their father. And any person old enough to engage in this deliberately defiant behavior over a five-year period must appreciate that they could be called before the court to account for their actions.
Finding that she performed due diligence and acted in good faith in the Tsimhoni divorce, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to suspend Judge Gorcyca, opting to censure her instead. Here is the crux of the High Court's rationale:
In this case...respondent’s decision to hold the children in contempt was an isolated instance of legal error. But we find it more significant that the errors—holding LT in contempt and giving the father the keys to the jailhouse— could have been remedied on appeal, that the errors were made with the parties’ knowledge, and that the parties failed to object to the orders. Further, in this tense court hearing, the children each had a lawyer present as well as the LGAL. The record also reflects that an FOC counselor was in the courtroom as well as an assistant prosecuting attorney. None of the lawyers or trained professionals in the courtroom suggested that respondent’s actions crossed the line nor did they offer alternative actions for the court’s consideration. For these reasons, we cannot conclude that respondent’s decisions are fairly characterized as “willful failure[s] to observe the law.” Respondent had the statutory authority to hold any contemptuous person in contempt of court, and it certainly appears that at least RT and NT blatantly defied the court’s order. As previously discussed, respondent may even have had authority to hold LT in contempt for encouraging his younger siblings’ contemptuous behavior, but we need not decide that question because even if that was not the basis of respondent’s contempt order, it is clear that respondent did not act in willful disregard of the law.
Justice Zahra is perhaps the ideal jurist to author this opinion. He is, as far as we know, the only justice on the High Court bench with judicial experience on the family court.

In several of our previous posts on this topic, here, here, and here, the Law Blogger has maintained that, at worst, Judge Gorcyca's decision in this fateful case amounted to legal error. Legal error can and should be addressed by the Michigan Court of Appeals, not the Judicial Tenure Commission.

If you are in Judge Gorcyca's camp on this issue -and the overwhelming majority of the family court bar is- then this opinion comes as a relief. Oral arguments in the case did not go particularly well for Tom Cranmer, Judge Gorcyca's lawyer; it really looked like the Supreme Court was leaning into a suspension to resolve the case.

In our opinion here at the Law Blogger, the Supreme Court made the correct ruling. Judges like Lisa Gorcyca are valuable members of the family court. Family Court judges cannot prosecute their dockets by looking over their shoulder to see whether a good faith legal ruling will wind-up entangling the judge in a judicial tenure matter.

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Blogger Jasmine said...

Good call.

July 29, 2017 at 3:24 PM 
Blogger Timothy P. Flynn said...

Thanks for your input Jasmine.

July 31, 2017 at 3:22 PM 

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