Public Accountability in Family Court
By Dr. Suzanne Thurman Ph.D
On December 14, 2015, the Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) of the state of Michigan issued a formal complaint against Judge Lisa Gorcyca, alleging judicial misconduct and “misrepresentation” (lying to the JTC). In short, the JTC complaint makes official what critics of Judge Gorcyca have been saying all along: she is reckless, dishonest, and above all, dangerous to those in her courtroom and to the judicial system as a whole. Our civic culture is premised on trust. People must believe that the government is doing its job, and if it isn’t, that the culprit(s) will be held accountable. That is why on June 24, 2015, when Gorcyca sent the three Tsimhoni children to juvenile hall for contempt of court, people around the world took to social media to protest her actions.
Angered by the children’s “refusal” to have a “healthy” relationship with their father, Gorcyca charged the children with contempt and sent them to “jail” (her word) in handcuffs. Her decision sparked a firestorm on social media. People from all walks of life took to the internet to express their outrage at her decision. She had a few supporters but most of the world could see Gorcyca’s behavior for what it was—unconscionable abuse of three innocent children. Gorcyca is not happy about this public scrutiny and has worked hard to stifle free speech. She has issued a gag order on both parties; seals documents that, presumably, contain information that could be harmful to her case; and blames social media any time the children do not behave as she thinks they should.
Despite these obstacles, advocates have worked tirelessly to hold Gorcyca accountable for the damage she has done, even filing formal complaints against her with the Judicial Tenure Commission. On December 14, the JTC issued its own complaint against Gorcyca. Executive Director of the JTC, Paul Fischer, noted that this case has moved very quickly through the system and asserts that Gorcyca’s behavior is a serious matter. Gorcyca, meanwhile, has retained a lawyer and refuses to step down from the Tsimhoni case.
Gorcyca’s blatant disregard for court procedures, for honesty and fairness, and for the law itself, is frightening, especially in light of scientific studies that show how behavior like hers traumatizes children and creates life-long problems for them. The Department of Justice study headed by Dr. Daniel Saunders concludes, in part, that courts routinely disbelieve abuse allegations made by a child or protective parent. The assumption that the allegations are false (an assumption Gorcyca has made in the Tsimhoni case) and the consequent refusal to examine evidence that supports the allegations (which Gorcyca does routinely) have turned the case at hand into a “harmful outcome” case. This means that any outcome that results from the judge’s decision will be more harmful to the child than any good the judge thought he or she would be doing when making the decision. The Adverse Childhood Experiences study, published by the Centers for Disease Control, found that children who experienced an adverse childhood experience, such as abuse, betrayal, and abandonment, were at greater risk of developing life-long emotional, physical, and mental health problems. Clearly, Gorcyca’s decisions have not been in the best interest of the children. She shamed and humiliated them in open court. She incarcerated them; detained them at “camp,” where they did not receive proper medical care for their bronchitis; then forced them into a dangerous “reunification” program run by a high school graduate. Finally, she turned them over to their father, the same man who abandoned them when he moved to Israel and whom they saw hit their mother, with whom they still reside. According to recent filings, they are deteriorating physically, mentally, and emotionally. They want to return to their mother’s, but the court has turned a deaf ear.
Gorcyca’s willful ignorance about the damage she is doing to the Tsimhoni children exemplifies why all judges should be required to read and understand the Saunders and Adverse Childhood Experiences studies before determining the best interest of a child. Based on the rampant dysfunction in family court, it would seem that there is little training of family court judges and even less accountability among them. If judges can’t stop themselves from making dangerous assumptions that lead to tragic decisions, it is up to public, through advocacy and positive actions (such as filing complaints), to do it for them.
Dr. Suzanne Thurman is a former history professor who has published extensively on women’s history. She is also an advocate for reform in family court where protective mothers and children are often abused for speaking the truth.