After sending three kids to juvenile detention for refusing to visit their estranged father, Michigan Family Court Judge Lisa Gorcyca has now lifted her contempt of court rulings and ordered their release from the detention center, sending them instead to summer camp with counseling.
“The court agrees with the children’s guardian’s recommendation as to the best interests of the children,” Gorcyca said on Friday, according to the Detroit Free Press. “The count finds that is in the children’s best interests to grant the father’s and the guardian ad litem’s motion to allow the children to attend summer camp.”
The court case made headlines after Gorcyca ordered the three siblings, ages 15, 10 and 9, to be locked up after they refused her order for them to apologize to or have lunch with their estranged father, Omer Tsimhoni, who is in the middle of a complicated custody battle with their mother, according to the court transcript of the hearing.
“That there is a recognition that there is counseling and other professional services is an appropriate way to deal with this,” Marsha Levick, Deputy Director and Chief Counsel of the Philadelphia-based Juvenile Law Center, tells PEOPLE.
“I do think the judge acted outside the boundaries of her judicial authority. We don’t lock children up because they they don’t get along with their parents. Inexplicable. It’s a horror story for these kids,” she added.
In a hearing on June 24, 15-year-old Liam Tsimhoni told Judge Gorcyca that he does “not apologize for not talking to my father because I have a reason for that and that’s because he’s violent and I saw him hit my mom and I’m not going to talk to him.”
In a ruling that juvenile legal experts tell PEOPLE is “irrational,” unprecedented and wrong, Gorcyca told him he defied her for not talking to his father and went on to compare the child to murderer Charles Manson.
She ruled Liam and his siblings in contempt of court for refusing her order to eat lunch with their father. She sentenced them to a juvenile detention facility until they are 18 years old, or until they attempt to have a relationship with their estranged father, according to the transcript of the hearing.
The trio were separated and jailed for more than two weeks without visitation by their mother, Maya Eibschitz-Tsimhoni, a physician whose divorce from the father was settled several years ago.
The children were held at Children’s Village in Pontiac, Michigan, which was described by InmateAid.com as “a medium security facility” with “a strengthened perimeter fence and electronic detection systems to ensure inmates stay within the facility.”
“It seems like an extraordinary abuse and misuse of the court system,” says Levick.
“The decision to remove these kids from their home and place them in detention away from each other – away from their family – is irrational. One could go on and on about all the ways this decision is wrong,” she says.
Adds Debra Chopp, Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Pediatric Advocacy Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School: “I am shocked by what I hear. The idea that children could be sent to prison, to detention for speaking up about abuse or for not having the relationship with a parent that a judge wants them to have is deeply disturbing. I think this will have a chilling effect on other children.
“I have never seen a judge put young children in detention when they are caught in the middle of litigation between their parents, she adds.
Gorcyca is unable to comment because it is an ongoing case, Amanda Murley, Gorsyca’s research attorney, tells PEOPLE.
Levick tells PEOPLE no judge should throw the kids in jail for a mom’s actions.
“That’s an issue to address with the mother and not to punish the children,” she says. “We’re not punishing children for the mistakes of their parents.”