A common complaint in the Family Court system is that the system often ends up putting children in harm’s way, by failing to assess the risk of putting children into custody and visitation arrangements with predators – physical and sexual abusers.
The speakers I have seen want these situations to be treated and investigated more as criminal matters than custody battles. And they argue that the safety of the children must be the highest priority of the system.
A month ago it seemed like the custody battle between Claire Benoit and Eric Gilson was headed in the right direction. Judge Kathleen White seemed to indicate her intention was to allow Mr. Gilson to have his due process rights, but at the same time she was bending over backwards to allow Ms. Benoit to protect her children by remaining abroad.
This month saw the troubling development of a visiting Judge, Arvid Johnson, throwing the case into turmoil by entertaining a motion, that clearly went against the wishes of Judge White in resolving this matter by getting it to a fall trial.
More disturbing, however, is the intervention of Deputy DA Tiffany Susz. She is now seeking an arrest warrant for Ms. Benoit, but, more interestingly, she is acting as de facto counsel for Mr. Gilson, who cannot afford counsel of his own. The Vanguard has received a copy of a transmission that shows the Yolo County DA’s office letterhead sending copies of Mr. Gilson’s ex-parte motion and request for a hearing to other parties.
She then reportedly accompanied Mr. Gilson to a July 19 ex-parte hearing that had no representation from Ms. Benoit or her attorneys. So, in effect, Judge Johnson changed the orders from Judge White with Ms. Benoit and her counsel in absentia, and set a hearing for next week on the arrest warrant.
This case is increasingly becoming reminiscent of last year’s Nan Hui trial. In fact, this case is actually far worse. While Nan Hui was arrested and separate from her child following a five-year period where she fled to South Korea, the father in that case, while young and somewhat irresponsible, at least had a legitimate interest in having contact with his daughter.
While he admitted to an incident in which he physically assaulted Nan Hui, it appeared from the description to be in the heat of a very tense moment and not an ongoing pattern. That is not to defend or excuse his actions, but rather to put them in proper perspective.
Mr. Gilson is another matter altogether. Mr. Gilson is currently on probation for felony domestic violence and a judge in Contra Costa County in mid-July denied him access to two children there, ordering him instead into therapy for control and abuse issues.
As the court order reads: “No later than 8-14-16, Father shall begin on-going weekly psychotherapeutic counseling for the purpose of addressing power and control dynamics.”
According to some sources, the felony domestic violence was actually a brutal stabbing and assault in which Mr. Gilson allegedly attempted to murder his spouse in front of their two daughters.
In one county, he has a 2007 conviction for corporal injury to a spouse. He has a 2008 conviction for battery on a non-cohabitating spouse. He has faced a series of charges in the last few years, including stalking, criminal threats and unauthorized wiretapping, as well as a violation in 2012 of a domestic violence restraining order.
The Vanguard also received a copy of a June 2014 Clinical Social Work Assessment from Sutter Hospital which indicated “Suspected Child Abuse” and “concern regarding the safety of pts. Children to FOC’s mental illness and abusive behaviors.” It goes on to note, “Due to concerns about the safety of pts. Children, LCSW [Licensed Clinical Social Worker] reported to Yolo County CPS.”
It goes on to note, “Pt. reports that CPS report was made earlier in the pregnancy due to the forced sexual encounter that resulted in this pregnancy.”
Ms. Benoit has told the Vanguard, “The rape that conceived my son is also medically documented and was reported by two third parties. Eric raped me in a room next to my children, knowing they were awake and my eldest daughter overheard everything.”
It is not that Ms. Susz is unaware of Mr. Gilson’s extensive criminal record – indeed, she told Judge Thomas Warriner in January that “some of the allegations by mom have been corroborated but we are still investigating this case.”
Under the law, Mr. Gilson has certain due process rights when he petitions for visitation or some sort of custody agreement for his children. Judge White explained this at the June hearing. Judge White has a difficult task of balancing the rights of Mr. Gilson against the safety and well-being of their children.
Judge White seemed to have the situation well in hand in June, only to have the order upset by the ex-parte motion from Mr. Gilson and then the intervention by Deputy DA Susz. Why Ms. Susz seems to be going out of her way to provide legal assistance for Mr. Gilson, who is not her client, is baffling.
The victim in this case is Ms. Benoit. Clearly, her decision to flee the country was based on a legitimate fear not only of Mr. Gilson but also of the system’s inability to protect her and her kids from this predator.
Ms. Benoit notes that the head of the DV classes that Mr. Gilson attends has noted that Mr. Gilson is “very good at playing the game but most likely has a very serious personality disorder.” Ms. Benoit believes “the guy is a loud ticking bomb.”
And yet, instead of protecting Ms. Benoit, Tiffany Susz continues to act on behalf of Mr. Gilson. The question no one seems to understand is why.
—David M. Greenwald reporting