The Egregious Improprieties of Judge Gorcyca of Oakland County Family Court

On June 24th, three children were taken out of Judge Lisa Gorcyca’s courtroom in handcuffs to be kept at Mandy’s Place, a detention facility for criminal and abused children. They were detained there for weeks. The Judge told the children that they would be peeing in front of others, that they would be kept apart from their siblings and not able to see their mom. The Judge told them that they could expect to attend school there and to be incarcerated until they were 18. Please view the transcript: Transcript_here.

Over ten thousand people signed an online petition to remove Gorcyca from the bench.

News reports about Gorcyca’s ruling went international, with some outlets receiving nearly 3,000 comments expressing disbelief, shock, and outrage for the children.

Only after the world got wind of what Gorcyca had done in her court did she decide to reassign the children to a summer camp. This was, once again, heedless of the children’s wishes to return to their home.

Their crime? Gorcyca told the children she found them in “direct contempt” because “I ordered you to have a healthy relationship with your father.” These three children were accused of being wrong to fear their father. These children were incredibly accomplished, earning math scholarships and excelling in sports. Deeply attached to each other and their mother, they were thriving in every single way we have to measure.

For our purposes, let us assume the CPS reports are false and that instead every single thing the judge suggested about the mother is true. (That  would be that, despite appearances, the mother was somehow failing to encourage the children to love their estranged father.) Even if that were the case, neither divorced parents nor the children of divorce can be held to emotional standards to which the rest of us are not. This is a violation of the most fundamental rights we have.

Gorcyca, addressing the mother, explains that she wants to make these children act the way other children do towards an abusive parent, saying, “I see kids who have been physically abused, tortured, raped, who still want to talk to their father, that still respect their father.”

But no account of child welfare can take the reaction of “tortured” children to be normative.

The well-being of children, however, clearly does include being kept out of juvenile detention. These centers are our national shame. Children who cannot stop acting out are sent there, where their behaviors do not lessen. Instead, children with behavioral issues seek victims among the non-criminal children housed in such facilities.

Though the father’s lawyer argued for it, it is inconceivable that any normal or loving parent would want their own children put in such a situation. One of these children spent his fifteenth birthday incarcerated and alone. You would think a Family Court Judge would be the one to point this out to a father and his attorney.

But what kind of person is untroubled by the jailing of nine-year-old children? The kind who, like this Judge, can be found taunting, name-calling, and threatening children in her court room transcripts.

There is no possible context that makes any of this acceptable.

The problem is not with Michigan law. It is clearly written and protective of children whose custody is being determined. For example, Michigan law articulates both standards for determining best interest as well as the factors necessary to consider in custody decisions. These  factors include exactly what makes Gorcyca’s decision so outrageous: children’s wishes, current bonds, continuity and school performance.

Michigan also advertises firm rules for the transfer of custody. These include an outside referee who gets to review the evidence.

Gorcyca got around all of this by sending these children to jail, creating (in her mind, I suppose) the opportunity to change custody without going through the legal hoops.

Why would a Judge be interested in coming up with a method of transferring custody without the option of appeal, and so long after decisions about custody were made? As they say: follow the money.

In this case, the father has reported to the press that he has paid his lawyer, a friend of the Judge, nearly 500,000 dollars. “Friends of the court” (an apt term) court-appointed Guardians ad litem and other court-appointed counselors, are also paid a fortune for the time families are required to spend with them. This kind of conflict of interest is simply not tolerated in other fields because it leads to behavior like Gorcyca’s.

And just as you would expect, the methods these “friends of the court” employ can only be explained by the ability to charge for their use. They are laughably absurd. IQ tests and Rorschach tests are not unheard of.

“Friends of the court” are simply not trained or qualified to do all that they are tasked to do. They routinely partake in the  “dual relationships” forbidden by the American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code: no one person can pretend to be an expert evaluator, parenting coordinator and therapist.

Gorcyca’s court is the perfect example of how far from common sense parenting “experts” get when parents have no choice but to pay for services. Gorcyca and the “friends of the court” in this case quote, nearly verbatim, the bizarre and completely unscientific (it has no actual or possible empirical support) account of a psychologist who only did “research” through observation of his own patients. His aim was to make us think better of pedophilia. His method was to suggest that any parent who “expresses neutrality” toward an accused abuser … “is essentially communicating criticism of the father.” This “implied” criticism of an abusive parent can “engender and foster alienation.” (Parental Alienation Syndrome, Richard A. Gardner, p. 100, supra note 2.) In other words, you would have be enthusiastic about the abuser and his abuse to avoid being labeled abusive by Gorcyca’s court.

It is an obvious gambit. Use of such junk science as evidence has been forbidden at the Federal level.

Pennsylvania’s scandal, judges getting kick-backs for sentencing children to jail, is reason for deep concern over the conflicts of interest in Family Court. The case of Judge Gorcyca’s husband’s own ethical breaches, his having done the same thing to another family, is reason enough for Michigan to say enough is enough. His poor ethics ruined a family but cost Michigan taxpayers a mountain of money, too. Who can be for this?

When they become adults, these children will be able to sue Michigan for how it perpetuated this abuse upon them, likely ruining their emotional lives and impeding what had been their clear career and academic prospects. But that will not fix the system. Only we can fix the system. And right now, like all unethical systems, it does not even make any sense.

What can be done?

The method of hiding these types of court room abuses is nearly perfect. The mother in this case has been issued a gag order, repeatedly promised jail if she speaks to anyone about what has happened to her children. The only way we can see what has been done to her children is through court filings, the most recent of which please view here: ResponsefromMother.

It is up to us to find some legislators who care and shine some light on this system for the good of our society, for our children. Let us be able to promise them: we will no longer let our judges call you names and tell you how they are going to hurt you.

We know better.