On June 24, a Michigan judge ordered three siblings to live in a juvenile detention center called the Children's Village because they refused to hang out with their dad. It's the latest development in a family court case that's stretched on since at least 2009 and has now spawned a Facebook group and a Change.org petition calling for justice.
Obviously, the decision itself is weird as hell, but so is the manner in which Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca delivered it. During the bizarre hearing, she compared the kids—who are 14, 10, and 9—to brainwashed members of the Manson family while arguing that their estranged father is a "great man."
After quickly sentencing the 14-year-old, Gorcyca found the younger kids in contempt, too, when they declined a final offer to have lunch with their dad then and there in the court's cafeteria.
"When you are ready to have lunch with your dad, to have dinner with your dad, to be normal human beings, I will review this when your dad tells me you are ready," Gorcyca concluded, according to a transcript of the hearing. "Otherwise, you are living in Children's Village 'til you graduate from high school. That is the order of the court. Goodbye."
Children's Village is a county-operated youth home in Pontiac, Michigan, that opened in 1929 and offers long-term rehabilitative treatment for 60 boys and 20 girls, according to the local government's official website. The judge suggested that the trio will each be living in a separate "cell" at Mandy's Place, a part of the Village specifically intended for kids who have been removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect.
Laura Abrams, an associate professor of social welfare at the University of California Berkeley, called the decision "horrendous" and "shocking" and pointed out that the judge could have done something else, like fine the mom or amend her custody order.
"I've never heard of a situation in which a kid refuses to visit their other parent and gets jailed—especially if they're nine," Abrams told VICE. "The whole thing is so absurd that I can't believe two weeks have gone by and they're still there. It doesn't sound like the kids broke any laws."
The children's mother, Maya Eibschitz, is a pediatric ophthalmologist who married Omer Tsimhoni in 1995. She first filed for divorce in late 2008 when, as the Observer reports, Tsimhoni decided to move to Israel for a job with General Motors and Eibschitz didn't want to follow him. The Detroit News reports that the couple briefly reconciled a few months later and moved to Israel with the children, but that Eibschitz returned to the US—with the kids—in December 2009, again filing for divorce.
According to a court order from February 23 of this year, the court appointed a mental health professional named Jennifer Hayes to work on the case, and she found evidence of a phenomenon called parental alienation.
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) was coined in the 80s as a way to describe a situation in which kids refuse to speak to one divorced parent, essentially because they've been bad-mouthed by the other. Some experts don't believe it's a real thing, but Judge Gorcyca determined that the Tsimhoni kids were victims of it.
Mary Keefe, executive director of the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCEDSV), thinks the theory is complete garbage.
"No child should be jailed for trying to stay safe," Keefe said in a statement. "[The] court seems to rely on the long debunked theory of parental alienation as a rational reason for the detention, perpetuating the terrible myth that children should not be believed when they come forward having witnessed abuse." (A clerk answering the phone at Judge Gorcyca's chambers said she had no comment at this time.)
Meanwhile, Eibschitz told a local Fox affiliate that watching her children get sent to the Village was like "watching them be executed," with Gorcyca growing increasingly annoyed throughout the hearing, berating the children for refusing to speak.
"You're supposed to have a high IQ, which I'm doubting right now because of the way you act," the judge told the 14-year-old, who oddly told the judge he was 15. The teenager said that he didn't want to see his father because he'd allegedly hit his mother. (Omer Tsimhoni has never been charged with any crime, according to the judge.)
The ten-year-old struggled to talk to his dad in court, only managing to mutter that he enjoyed soccer and hoped to join a team. "Oh, that's impressive," Judge Gorcyca said. When the nine-year-old refused to speak at all, the judge told her, "God gave you a brain. He expects you to use it."
Omer Tsimhoni released a statement to VICE through a family friend.
"Ms. Eibschitz continually alienates the children from their father, and has ignored countless court hearings and rulings," Ronn Torossian wrote us in an e-mail. "Mr. Tsimhoni has great respect for the court and the legal system. He is a loving, caring father who desires a healthy relationship with his children."
While some reports have suggested the kids can be released if the father consents, Torossian told VICE there is "absolutely zero truth that he can get them out if he wishes."
According to the Observer, the kids were still giving dad the silent treatment as of Wednesday, and the judge scheduled another hearing, but not until September.
Eibschitz—who's not allowed to visit the children during their stay at the Village—couldn't immediately be reached for comment, nor could her attorney.
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