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What is the Role of a Judge?

Confirmation Bias and the Michigan Judge who Jailed Children for Reporting Abuse

Over 10,000 people demanded Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcya step down from the divorce case she was presiding over when she decided to jail three sweet, gifted siblings, ages 9-14. (One of these children spent his birthday alone, in jail, without any visits from his father who had put him there.)

This Judge told these children in court that they would spend their childhoods in jail because they defied her order to have a “healthy relationship” with their estranged father.

And the Judge's disturbing decisions just do not seem to end. Before custody was transferred to the father (without an evidentiary hearing), the Judge ordered a tremendous amount of money be paid to a high school graduate to do "anti-brainwashing" work on these poor children over five days in a hotel room.

It turns out that this terrifying approach to “reworking brains” did not work. Despite now living with their father and being banned from any contact at all with their mother, the children still do not have a "healthy relationship" with their father. And yet court watchers have reported that the Judge and her friends are suggesting it is still the mother—banned from seeing or learning about her children all this time—who is to blame.

Judge Gorcyca has once again been asked to step down from the case, but this time on not just a moral basis but a legal basis. She's certainly displayed bias. Yet it is up to the Judge herself to decide if she is unduly biased against the mother. She gets to hear the complaint about herself. She's letting the world know what she decides Monday (news story here).

Of course, there's no reason for us to imagine a biased Judge will admit to bias.

Yet, like all aspects of this case, Gorcyca's bias against the mother can only be described as evident and extreme. The Judge has rejected repeat therapist reports (one from a psychiatrist described here), the children's testimony of abuse, a CPS report—all because she has decided it is the mother who has a problem. The Judge does not hold back, in the transcripts you can read that the Judge even thinks it is a personal problem between her and the mother, citing her own hurt feelings about a hallway interaction as if that is germane.

It’s hard to sum up all that is wrong here. But Rebecca Merrit recently posted a comment on the case that helps us to think about what we expect from Judges.

“Life is very simple when one person or an entire judicial system adopts a confirmation bias. In this instance if an objective is not met, it must be the mother’s fault, no need to examine any other hypothesis.

Judge Gorcyca is displaying a clear case of confirmation bias. The judge is supposed to be neutral which means she is supposed to cognitively propose alternative, competing hypotheses, like: What else could explain the children's behaviors other than the mother engaging in parental alienation and persistently trying to damage the relationship between father and children?

Odd how they all draw a blank on that one yet to most of us it is quite simple—perhaps what the children have told the judge about experiencing and witnessing domestic violence is true. Perhaps the father’s flawed, failed relationship with the children is based on his own behaviors toward them and their resulting fears of him.

Perhaps what we are witnessing is estrangement based on his behaviors rather than efforts from the mother to alienate the children from the father (efforts the court has already had to admit cannot be discerned).

Court records we have seen have never fully addressed these competing hypotheses and thus parties like us prone to one or the other of these confirmation biases jump on the bandwagon to proclaim their beliefs—alienation or estrangement.

I am not a mothers' or fathers' rights person; I prefer to focus upon the rights of the children and in this case and this courtroom the rights of these children have been virtually nonexistent and trampled upon.

It saddens me that no strong voice or presence with media or judicial influence seems to care about these three children's rights. It is emblematic of the dangerousness our family court system can pose daily for thousands of defenseless children. This must be changed. Children should not be seen as property to be evenly divided between parents regardless of their parents' fitness and willingness to parent. A neutral court setting with a better judge is needed and regardless of the final decision (alienation or estrangement) the children and their parents separately need true competent, research based psychological services that do not arise from a money profiteering “parental alienation syndrome” (PAS) industry pretending that PAS is a real DSM diagnosis and that there are empirically validated treatment protocols for this non-diagnosis.

In this case these three children were kept in a hotel room with the father they claim to be abusive and a high school graduate PAS "coach". Coaches do not have to be licensed therapists allowing the practice of "therapy" without a supervisory board to report violations of acceptable practice. Judges need to do due diligence in understanding that PAS should not be accepted as a "diagnosis" in the court room and that treatment of either genuine alienation or estrangement needs to be done by licensed, experience bona-fide professionals who care about healing the children rather than padding the coffers.”

Following this story, it has become clear that Michigan Courts do not have any meaningful standards of professionalism for their judges. The public outcry only seemed to embolden the Judge and her lawyer friends. This story first made international news because of Gorcyca's description of these three children as the "Manson cult" along with assorted other put-downs made directly to the children in court. These seem like things only a sick person would say to any child -- yet no one in authority condemned the Judge's words. Other Judges instead were writing in under news stories, in their own names (Judge Cynthia Lane) calling these children "spoiled brats." Judge Gorcyca has been photographed mocking parents protesting horrific and thoughtless placement decisions. The Guardian ad Litem, who gets paid for his work, refuses to share his reports with the mother and has now hired his own attorneys to insist a large amount of money is necessary before he will agree to even be questioned about his findings. It seems no one is answerable anywhere in this case.

(Well, no one is answerable other than the mother, who has to answer to the Guardian ad Litem for not "moving on" (as he's put it this week) from her concerns about physical abuse. This is straight out of the "PAS" playbook.)

When we have Judges (and court officials) acting like this, and absolutely no one in power concerned about it, where have we gone wrong?

To learn more about this case and see if you can help, this page has a helpful timelines of the case and links to transcripts and news. The transcripts really need to be read to be believed. Concerned citizens have gathered all of the official court records made available to the public here.

Here is video on the story from when it first broke.