CHICAGO, February 10, 2016 – Judge Lisa Gorcyca is again under scrutiny for her behavior in an Oakland County custody case.
Michigan mother Susan Wellington told CDN that Gorcyca alienated her from her son. ,Wellington suggests that actions by Gorcyca, including changing custody arrangements without an evidentiary hearing, effectively ended her relationship with her son.
Ironically, this behavior is in sharp contrast to Gorcyca’s behavior in another case in her courtroom involving the Tsimhoni family. In that case, Gorcyca alleged that the mother engaged in parental alienation and she forced the Tsimhoni children to have a relationship with the father they said abused them.
Wellington, currently a real estate professional in Florida, filed for divorce in 1998. The divorce was finalized in 1999, and Wellington received physical custody of her son.
Judge Gorcyca was assigned to the case in 2008, but Wellington says there were no additional legal issues in the case until 2011.
According to Wellington, her son visited his father over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011 and refused to come home, claiming she was verbally abusive.
Wellington said her son had never made any previous allegations of verbal abuse. She also said she has never been the subject of a Child Protective Services investigation, never been in trouble with the law, and never been accused of having an alcohol problem.
During the time her son made the allegations, Judge Gorcyca was taking a leave of absence for breast cancer treatment. As a result, the friend of the court Rodney Yeacker took the lead.
In a handwritten order on Aug. 17, 2011, Yeacker effectively changed custody, writing, “Child to remain in father’s care, mother will have parenting time every other weekend.”
Yeacker also cancelled child support, arguing that the child was no longer in the mother’s care.
This order appears to violate precedent set in the 1990 Michigan Court of Appeals ruling in Schlender V Schlender, which determined that custody can only be changed after an evidentiary hearing. That ruling says, “We find that the petitioner in a custody matter cannot be deprived by local court rule of an evidentiary hearing. This Court has held that it is improper for a trial judge to decide the issue of custody on the pleadings and the report of the friend of the court when no evidentiary hearing was held.”
Wellington said that when she brought up this apparent violation of due process during a meeting with Yeacker in August 2011, he told her, “You have no constitutional rights here.”
In the Tsimhoni case, Judge Gorcyca also changed custody without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing.
Rodney Yeacker, whose work voicemail states he is the friend of the court attached to Judge Gorcyca, didn’t respond to a voicemail request for comment.
Wellington’s attorney during this period was Robert Starkman, who didn’t respond to an email for comment.
The attorney for Wellington’s ex-husband was Raymond Szymagaj, who declined to provide an on-the-record comment when reached by phone.
Wellington decided to switch attorneys in the fall 2011, and a friend recommended Candyce Abbatt, because, Wellington told CDN, she was in front of Gorcyca often and knew how to win favorable rulings.
One of those cases is the Flowers divorce and custody case, where Abbatt represents Debra Flowers’ ex-husband. In that case, Debra Flowers lost all contact with her son, her home was confiscated and she has been jailed six times.
Abbatt didn’t respond to a message at her office.
Because of a scheduling conflict, Abbatt declined to take the case but recommended Renee Gucciardo. Abbatt reportedly told Wellington that Gucciardo and Gorcyca are “best friends” and this relationship allows Gucciardo to also get favorable rulings.
Gucciardo has appeared multiple times in Gorcyca’s court. In one case, Gucciardo represented Jannell Eagan’s ex-husband. Jannell Eagan attempted to argue parental alienation in that case, but was completely rebuffed by Gorcyca.
Gucciardo was also one of 50 lawyers who submitted a letter in favor of Judge Gorcyca, in which they said, “We can attest to her compassion for families and her desire to zealously uphold the law.”
Gucciardo didn’t respond to a message at her office.
Because of a large case load, Gucciardo agreed to take on the case only with a co-counsel, and Wellington chose Jorie Rubin.
Rubin didn’t respond to a voicemail for comment.
Wellington submitted evidence that her ex-husband was engaging in parental alienation against her. Her team provided emails from members of Wellington’s ex-husband’s family talking badly about her and encouraging her son to demand to live with his father.
Gucciardo asked Gorcyca for a show cause hearing, which in layman’s terms would have been a hearing at which her ex-husband would have needed to provide evidence to show why the custody should be switched.
Gorcyca and Szymagaj repeatedly made mention of Wellington’s son’s near perfect grade-point average to show he was thriving with his father. They made this point despite the fact that her son had been in Wellington’s care for the majority of the semester. In the Tsimhoni case, Gorcyca ignored evidence that all three children thrived academically in their mother’s care and placed them in the custody of their father.
Instead of granting the show cause hearing, Gorcyca spoke in her chambers with Wellington’s son. Afterwards, she said, “I would to say this, number one, (is) the most impressive child I’ve ever interviewed.” Gorcyca’s monologue, was in sharp contrast to her characterization of the three Tsimhoni children as akin to Manson’s cult. “My court staff agrees. He is amazing.”
Gorcyca said that any relationship between son and mother would only happen with the son “kicking and screaming.”
However, that same view did not prohibit Gorcyca from essentially ordering the Tsimhoni children to have a relationship with their father. Gorcyca ordered those children to have a healthy relationship with their father despite their allegations of abuse by him. She even sentenced them to juvenile hall when they refused to have lunch with him.
In the Wellington case, Gorcyca appeared to blame the mother, and did not attempt to force any type of relationship. Instead, she said, “There were some things that were disturbing that were told to me about your — about the prior relationship and some things that have been said and done.”
Gorcyca did not enter any specific “disturbing” issues into the record.
Gorcyca further told Wellington, “Mom, I want you to go see a counselor and work on effectively communicating and expressing yourself.”
The judge issued that requirement with Wellington, but made no similar order for counseling in the Tsimhoni case.
Wellington said she and her son went to the same counselor separately over the next two months until her son turned 18 and was no longer subject to Gorcyca’s court.
Judge Gorcyca never forced her son to meet with her or to have a relationship with her.
Wellington said she has no relationship with her son four years later.