NEWS: Three siblings in Oakland County, Michigan, have been sent to a juvenile facility after refusing to visit their their non-custodial father.
On 9 July 2015, several Michigan-based news outlets reported upon an unusual late-June 2015 development in a longstanding child custody dispute in Oakland County, Michigan.
The case involved three children (aged 15, 10, and 9), who were sent to the Michigan juvenile detention facility Children’s Village on 24 June 2015 on the orders of Oakland Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca. The dispute dated to the 2010 separation and divorce of the children’s parents, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni and Omer Tsimhoni, and a Facebook group created by a neighbor of Eibschitz-Tsimhoni to publicize the children’s plight drew considerable attention to the situation.
Many news accounts reported that the children had been put in detention for refusing to speak to their father, whom they have accused of being abusive:
Oakland Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca said the children of Maya Tsimhoni were in contempt of court and ordered them held at Oakland County Children’s Village until they attempt to have a relationship with their father or they turn 18.
The children were taken into custody after a 24 June 2015 hearing.
“I do apologize if I didn’t understand the rules,” said the boy, 15, “but I do not apologize for not talking to [my father] because I have a reason for that and that’s because he’s violent and I saw him hit my mom and I’m not going to talk to him.”
Judge Lisa Gorcyca told the boy: “I ordered you to talk to your father. You chose not to talk to your father. You defied a direct court order. It’s direct contempt so I’m finding you guilty of civil contempt.”
The boy responded: “But he was the one that [did] something wrong. I thought there [were] rules … for not hitting someone.”
Judge Gorcyca banned the mother or anyone from her side of the family from visiting the boy.
Tsimhoni’s two other children had a hearing later in the day, during which the 10-year-old boy did speak briefly to his father.
However, the two siblings refused the opportunity to go for lunch with their father during a court break and the judge subsequently ordered that they, too, go to juvenile detention.
The children have been required to undergo psychiatric therapy while at Children’s Village and were to “be kept away from each other as much as possible”, according to a hand-written order from the court.
Larry Dubin, a lawyer who has been a law professor at the University of Detroit Mercy for the last 40 years, said that he was stunned by Gorcyca’s decision. “To treat this like a case of contempt where she sends them away until they’re willing to comply with court order seems harsh with respect to young children,” Dubin said. “It certainly can raise all kinds of constitutional issues.”
On 9 June 2015, court clerks indicated that Judge Gorcyca had declined comment on the ongoing proceedings, but a lengthy transcript of the 24 June 2015 hearing was published online [PDF], and records Judge Gorcyca telling the 15-year-old boy:
You’re very defiant. You have no manners … There is no reason why you do not have a relationship with your father. Your father has never been charged with anything. Your father’s never been convicted of anything. Your father doesn’t have a personal protection order against him. Your father is well-liked and loved by the community, his co-workers, his family, his colleagues. You, young man, have got it wrong. I think your father is a great man who has gone through hoops for you to have a relationship with you.
You need to do a research program on Charlie Manson and the cult that he has … You have bought yourself living in Children’s Village, going to the bathroom in public, and maybe summer school.
During a separate, later portion of the hearing, Judge Gorcyca warned the younger two children that the juvenile facility was an unpleasant place to live:
You want to have your birthdays in Children’s Village? Do you like going to the bathroom in front of people? Is your bed soft and comfortable at home? I’ll tell you this, if you two don’t have a nice lunch with your dad and make this up to your dad, you’re going to come back here [after a break] and I’m going to have the deputies take you to Children’s Village.
Gorcyca was recorded in the transcript as saying that the eldest child could remain in the juvenile facility (actually a temporary housing center, not juvenile detention) up until his eighteenth birthday if he continued to defy her orders.
As news of the case traversed social media and the blogosphere, “Bloomfield Hills, Michigan” topped trending topics on Facebook. Multiple aggregated articles claimed the children were “sent to juvie” for refusing to “have lunch” with their father, but Gorcyca hinted at a much more complex scenario and described the situation as “tied for [her] worst parental alienation case.”
On 10 July 2015, Judge Lisa Gorcyca ordered that the kids be released from Children’s Village facility and sent to Camp Tamarack in West Bloomfield.