After a highly controversial child custody case spread like wildfire through the media, one Judge was brought into close focus for what many were claiming was unethical behavior on the bench. As it turns out, the Judicial Review Board agrees, and has ruled that Oakland County Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca is guilty of misconduct.
Judge Gorcyca’s conduct was scrutinised after she found the three Tsimhoni children, now 14, 11 and 10, to be in contempt of court, remanding them to the Children’s Village juvenile detention center for refusing to have lunch with their father. She then had them escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs. During a later hearing, the Judge compared the children to Manson’s brainwashed followers, and circled her finger next to her head, which everyone in the courtroom understood to mean that she thought they were crazy. The Judge’s logic, she later explained, was that this was not about child abuse, as the children and their mother had claimed, but rather about parental alienation.
But while this drew the ire of many media sources, bloggers and news readers around the nation, what appears to have inflamed the Judge’s situation had less to do with how she handled the case, and more to do with the investigation that followed. According to the Judicial Tenure Committee (JTC), when their investigators questioned the Judge about the way she handled the case, she lied about certain aspects and flatly denied others, despite video footage that documented everything.
The Judicial Tenure Committee filed a 17 page complaint against Judge Gorcyca, claiming that she had violated the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct. In the complaint, the JTC alleges that the Judge ridiculed the three children in open court, and also significantly exaggerated the punishment she was legally allowed to impose on them for refusing parenting time. The complaint also alleged that she had the children handcuffed and led out of court while she laughed at them, but that she later lied about these allegations when confronted by JTC investigators.
The ruling, released on Friday, July 1st, states that Judge Gorcyca “failed to establish, maintain, enforce, and personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.” Additionally, it claimed that she had not taken “personal responsibility for her own behavior” while on the bench, which is a reference to the claims that she lied to investigators.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Daniel Ryan, the special master appointed by the JTC to preside over Judge Gorcyca’s trial, had this to say at the conclusion of the hearing about the case. “This is not a case that stands for the proposition that judges cannot employ stern language or make difficult decisions from the bench in contentious cases. It is a disciplinary action which stands for the singular proposition that if a judge is going to use the inherent power of contempt,… the judge may wish to consult the owner’s manual to make sure that she or he is using the tool properly before employing one of the 34 penultimate tools of inherent judicial power… to deprive any individual, or children in this case, of their liberty.”
The case now goes to the full Judicial Tenure Commission, which which is charged with deciding whether or not to submit the findings to the Michigan Supreme Court with a recommendation for discipline. Should she choose to, Judge Gorcyca may challenge the findings at the Supreme Court level.