In a child-custody case that made national headlines after a suburban Detroit judge jailed three children for refusing to socialize with their father, the Michigan Supreme Court has rejected a harsher punishment recommended last year -- ruling that Oakland County Judge Lisa Gorcyca should be publicly censured but not suspended for her courtroom behavior.
The high court said Friday that Gorcyca committed judicial misconduct by "directing demeaning and disparaging remarks" at the children during a hearing, but that other findings of misconduct by the Judicial Tenure Commission amounted to "mere legal errors made in good faith and with due diligence," which were remedied by the appeals court.
"Public censure was proportionate to" Gorcyca's "misconduct," the court ruled.
Justice Richard Bernstein dissented in part on the finding of "mere legal errors."
"I would have adopted the findings and recommendation of the Judicial Tenure Commission to publicly censure respondent and suspend her from office for 30 days without pay," Bernstein wrote.
The ruling means Gorcyca avoids a suspension without pay and will not have to pay thousands of dollars in fines and court costs. Their decision ends a two-year saga for Gorcyca, who was accused of mishandling the bitter child-custody case that lasted more than five years.
It also vindicates her decision to appeal to the state's highest court when some had recommended that she accept the findings of the Tenure Commission and take the suspension.
The Tenure Commission ruled in November that Gorcyca had committed Judicial Misconduct in her handling of the contentious child-custody case in June 2015, when she sent three children, ages 9, 10 and 13, to a juvenile detention facility for 17 days for ignoring her order to visit with their father.
She compared one child's actions to those of cult leader Charles Manson and made a circular motion with her finger near her ear as she said it.
The misconduct case against Gorcyca became a lightning rod of controversy with father-rights advocates calling her a hero. Critics complain that she tried to force the children to love someone they didn't.
The Tenure Commission had recommended suspension but only the Michigan Supreme Court can discipline judges.
Judges make $139,919 a year, so 30 days off the bench would cost Gorcyca about $11,660 in lost salary. The commission also recommended Gorcyca pay $12,553 in fines and costs.
Gorcyca had fought the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
"Judge Gorcyca has a well-deserved and well-earned reputation as a caring and superior jurist with the support of the entire family bench and bar," her lawyers, Thomas Cranmer and Christian Hildebrandt, wrote in a brief to the Supreme Court filed late last year. "A suspension of any sort, preventing her from performing her elected duties, would be an injustice."
The case involved Omer Tsimhoni and his ex-wife, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, and drew international attention after Gorcyca locked up the children.
Advocates for the parenting rights of fathers backed Tsimhoni, arguing his was a textbook case of parental alienation. At one point, the children sat in chairs in the hallway with their arms locked together, refusing to enter the courtroom.
"This case is every judge's nightmare," Cranmer said at a November hearing. "This was five years of the most contentious, vexatious litigation imaginable."
After Gorcyca was accused of judicial misconduct, the divorce case was reassigned to Judge Joan Young, who presided over it until the end of 2016 when she retired. The case continues under new judge Victoria Valentine and continues. Both parties are now representing themselves after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers.
The docket shows 999 entries in the case, the most recent earlier this month, when a judge ordered the couple to Eibschitz-Tsimhoni to list for sale the couple's former home in Ann Arbor.
In July, more than 130 family court lawyers packed Gorcyca's courtroom to show their support for her. In September, a Pontiac man was charged with threatening to kill Gorcyca, whom he feared wouldn't treat him fairly in his own child custody case.
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© 2017 Detroit Free Press