Michigan Judge sentences divorcing spouse jail time; gagging the proceedings against media scrutiny. Since when is divorce and child custody a jail offense?
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16, 2016 – Controversial Oakland County, Michigan Judge Lisa Gorcyca issued a gag order in a custody case just hours before sending the wife to her sixth prison stint for “violations” related to the divorce case.
The judge granted a request filed by the ex-husband of Debra Flowers, Candyce Abbatt, seeking to stop Flowers from speaking to the press. Flowers has previously provided details regarding the divorce to reporters.
“It is in the best interest of (Flowers’ son) that the court issue this gag order.” Abbatt’s motion, heard on Friday, stated. “The Court has protected him from the venomous actions of his disturbed mother and given him a lovely and normal childhood.”
Flowers was removed from her son’s life suddenly and without warning after she admitted to consuming several drinks before a court hearing in January 2015, and has not been allowed to see her child under any circumstance since that time.
In the motion, Abbatt attempted to discount the reporters Flowers has spoken with, saying, “She (Flowers) has provided scam artists to use her child’s image for their own self-promotion.”
Abbatt has failed to respond to numerous requests for comments.
Gorcyca also appointed disgraced lawyer Debra McKelvey to represent her. McKelvey was determined by the Michigan Supreme Court to have represented her client so poorly that an innocent man was found guilty; the man, Yakov Trakhtenberg, successfully sued McKelvey for $500,000.
Both times McKelvey represented her in front of Gorcyca, Flowers was sentenced to jail.
The court file shows that McKelvey asked to be removed from the case at the same time the motion for the gag order was heard.
McKelvey has declined several requests for comment.
The reasoning behind this request for a gag order appears to run counter to established precedent.
In December 2014, Federal Judge William J. Martini found a similar gag order violated the First Amendment.
In that case, Essex County (New Jersey) Superior Court Judge Nancy Sivilli issued a gag order, one nearly identical to the one issued by Judge Gorcyca.
All parties are hereby enjoined and restrained without prejudice from speaking with, appearing for an interview, or otherwise discussing, the parties’ marriage, their pending divorce, the within litigation, or the parties’ children or making any derogatory or negative statements about the other parties to any reporters, journalists, newscasters, or other agents/employees of newspapers or other media outlets on the grounds that it is not in the best interest of the children to have the parties’ divorce litigation discussed in a public forum.
But Judge Martini rejected that argument, stating, “The Court therefore rejects Defendants’ argument that Nichols has failed to adequately allege a First Amendment violation.”
Nichols refers to Paul Nichols, a reporter with the Bergen (New Jersey) Dispatch, who was seeking to interview Surender Malhan about Malhan’s experience in family court; a Bergen Dispatch story summarized Malhan’s experiences:
In a 2011 case Judge Sivilli stripped Surender Malhan, a New Jersey father, of his custody rights on a mere two hours’ notice without affording him an opportunity to refute his estranged wife’s allegations. “Sivilli prohibited Malhan from cross examining his wife or presenting physical evidence that would further demonstrate his parental fitness. The mother retained sole custody of the children for sixteen months until she agreed to joint custody in June 2012; during that time Malhan was never granted a plenary hearing.
Many family court litigants have complained that gag orders issued on the claim that it isn’t in the best interest of the child are actually issued to cover up fraud and abuse.
Abbatt’s motion shares another similarity with other controversial family court cases: the contention that a litigant who suffers abuse has mental or psychological issues. “By continuing to fill the internet with lies and distortions by this litigant which concerns upon Debra’s mental illness/disorder and her inability to fill her toxic viewpoint from her son,” Abbatt stated. “Debra Flowers continues to place her sick need for attention ahead of the welfare of her young son.”
Flowers addressed this charge in her response, “Miss Flowers takes issue with defense referring to her as ‘disturbed’. Defense is not qualified to make such statements, which in turn is libelous.”
Claiming mental instability is commonly used in family courts to gain leverage by one litigant over the other. When this happens, the litigants accused of being mentally unstable are often removed from their children’s lives for years at a time. These individuals on the losing side of divorce and custody cases also often face repeated jail sentences.
After Flowers leaves jail, she will remain under the thumb of the court. She is ordered to attend weekly therapy, and her civil probation has been extended until 2017.
Additionally, she continues to wear an ankle monitor that reports any alcohol consumption until July 29, 2016, when that restriction is lifted. Flowers has never been convicted of any alcohol-related crime.
Flowers is currently serving her jail sentence and did not participate in this article.
Judge Gorcyca’s chambers has repeatedly declined comment on any of the four controversial cases reported on by Communities Digital News, stating her standing policy against commenting on ongoing cases.
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