In In re Gorcyca, No. 152831, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld the Judicial Tenure Commission’s (JTC) finding that Sixth Circuit Judge Lisa O. Gorcyca had engaged in judicial misconduct because of her disparaging comments to three children during a contempt hearing; however, the Court overturned the JTC’s recommended sanctions of 30-day suspension without pay and costs of $12,533.73. Instead, the Court held that public censure alone was sufficient.
In the course of protracted and contentious proceedings for a divorce case, three children refused to speak with their father even after a court order required two of them to do so. Judge Gorcyca told the oldest child, who was not included in the court order in question, that he was “defiant, contemptuous, and mentally messed up,” and held him in direct contempt of court. Judge Gorcyca also held the other two children in direct contempt, and all three children were handcuffed and ordered to be confined at the Oakland County Children’s Village. After an investigation, the JTC concluded that Judge Gorcyca had engaged in judicial misconduct by finding the oldest child in contempt of a nonexistent parenting-time order, as well as by making a gesture indicating that the oldest child was crazy and making disparaging remarks about the children throughout the hearing. The JTC recommended that Judge Gorcyca be publicly censured, suspended from office without pay for 30 days, and pay costs of $12,553.73.
The Michigan Supreme Court agreed with the JTC’s conclusion that Judge Gorcyca committed judicial misconduct by directing demeaning and disparaging comments to the children. However, the Court disagreed with the JTC’s conclusion that Judge Gorcyca committed misconduct when she held the oldest child in contempt of an order that did not apply to him. Instead, the Court held that this was a mere legal error that could be corrected on appeal. Nor was the Court persuaded that the recommended sanctions of suspension without pay and additional costs were appropriate. Ultimately, the Court held that public censure was proportionate to the misconduct established by the record.
Justice Viviano concurred, but wrote separately to clarify that in JTC cases, the Court should address all the legal bases for the findings of misconduct recommended by the JTC.
Justice Bernstein concurred in part and dissented in part, finding that Judge Gorcyca’s inability to recognize the problematic nature of her conduct and her attempt to shift responsibility for her conduct indicated a need for a more severe sanction. Accordingly, Judge Bernstein would have adopted the JTC’s recommendation for public censure and suspension without pay, but agreed with the majority that the imposition of costs was not appropriate.