A family court judge has sent three Israeli-American children to a juvenile detention center for refusing to speak to their father.
Liam Tsimhoni, 14, and his siblings, Rowie, 10, and Nathalie, 9, have been in juvenile detention since June 24.
Judge Lisa Gorcyca, of Oakland County family court in Michigan, threatened to detain all three children until they turn 18 — unless they start speaking to their father.
The children have been at the center of a divorce and now a custody battle raging for five years between Maya and Omer Tsimhoni, both originally from Israel.
Maya Tsimhoni told FOX 2 news that she felt as though she was watching her children being “executed” as they were sent away.
“No matter how bad the divorce gets, I think the court should not punish the kids for that,” Tsimhoni said.
The Tsimhoni children live with their mother in Bloomfield Hills, a tony suburb of Detroit. Their father lives nearby; he has remarried and has a two-year-old child.
During the June 24 court hearing, Gorcyca alluded to previous courthouse incidents during which the children and their mother behaved badly, according to a court transcript.
When Gorcyca ordered Liam to speak to his father and Liam refused, saying that his father was violent and that he hit his mother, Gorcyca called him “a defiant, contemptuous young man” and ordered that he be put in detention.
The judge’s tone, at times, was striking.
During one exchange, she told the 14-year-old: “You’re supposed to have a high IQ, which I’m doubting right now because of the way you act, you’re very defiant, you have no manners.”
During another exchange, she made sure to emphasize to the boy that being in detention meant that he would have to go “to the bathroom in public.”
Gorcyca said she would review her decision when the teen “can follow the court’s direct order and have a normal, healthy relationship with your father.”
She described the children’s father as “a great man who has gone through hoops for you to have a relationship with you.”
The two younger siblings, who appeared next, apologized and appeared to be willing to communicate with their father. Gorcyca ordered Rowie and Nathalie to have lunch with their father in the court’s cafeteria that day. She warned them that if they did not comply they could end up in detention.
“Do you like going to the bathroom in front of people?” Gorcyca asked nine-year-old Nathalie. “Is your bed soft and comfortable?”
When the pair refused to have lunch with their father, Gorcyca said that they had been “brainwashed” by their mother and ordered that they be put in detention, too, and given counseling.
Gorcyca ordered that the siblings should be kept apart in detention. She also forbade Maya Tsimhoni or any of her family members from having access to the children.
Omer Tsimhoni blames his ex-wife for his children’s predicament.
In a statement released through a New York public relations executive, Ronn Torossian, who described himself as “a family friend,” Omer Tsimhoni’s legal team said: “This situation is traumatic for everyone involved, and it is unfortunate that the mother’s actions have resulted in this situation.”
The statement added that the children’s mother “continually alienates the children from their father, and has ignored countless court hearings and rulings.”
The statement concluded by asking the media “to respect the children’s privacy.”
Bloomfield Hills and nearby West Bloomfield are popular areas for Jewish families.
Rabbi Jason Miller, a local technology executive and founder of a kosher certification agency, said people realize there are two sides to every custody battle.
Miller said the overwhelming reaction in the community has been shock.
“It’s bizarre,” Miller said. “The kids have been punished for their parents’ custody battle.”
Maya Tsimhoni’s lawyer, Lisa Stern, declined to comment, citing the “sensitive nature of this matter involving young children.”
In a statement, Stern said that she and her client “look forward to the safe return of the children.”