Just when it seemed like the case of Benoit v. Gilson was on track for an October trial, a combination of an ex-parte motion filed by the father, intervention by Deputy DA Tiffany Susz, and actions of visiting Judge Arvid Johnson combined to throw the case in chaos.
In a June hearing, Judge White had set a path forward after Attorney Kim Robinson, representing Ms. Benoit in absentia, told the court that Ms. Benoit has no intention of being here and that they need to find another solution, other than getting her here, to allow Mr. Gilson to pursue his custody matter.
Claire Benoit, then a Davis resident, took her four children on a visit to France in the fall of 2015. She had full custody at the time. Eric Gilson, father of her two toddlers, was allowed only supervised visits, after a hearing in September of 2015 regarding allegations of domestic violence
Mr. Gilson asked for an ex parte hearing and Judge Kathleen White awarded him unsupervised visits on November 2, despite his history of violence.
At that point, fearing for the safety of her kids, Ms. Benoit “disappeared” into Europe, seeking what turns out now to be a failed asylum in the Netherlands.
In June, Kim Robinson offered that Ms. Benoit could participate by Skype in a deposition. Judge White responded that, while she did not know the legality of proceeding that way and that it is not ideal, she would look into it, as Skype would be better than no participation at all.
At this point, she set a one-week trial for October 11 through October 14. Judge White ordered that Mr. Gilson, who is not represented by an attorney and cannot afford one, would have to depose Ms. Benoit before he could be deposed. However, she allowed Ms. Robinson to conduct normal discovery in this matter prior to a July 15 deadline for Ms. Benoit to be deposed.
However, on July 15, the Yolo County DA’s office sent a transmission to Ms. Robinson indicating that Mr. Gilson has scheduled an ex-parte hearing for July 19. As a family court matter, the DA has to be observing, but is not directly involved in the proceedings.
Mr. Gilson in the declaration requested “an extension to notify other party of my intended deposition date. I also request an order that the other party must take my deposition thru Skype as well.”
In her own declaration, filed on July 19, Ms. Robinson indicated, “Our office served Mr. Gilson with a Notice of Taking Deposition on July 14, 2016 in the Spinetta Family Law Building at 751 Pine Street, Martinez, California where Mr. Gilson was appearing in another family law matter.”
She continued, “I saw Mr. Gilson enter the building, approached him and asked, ‘Mr. Gilson?’, to which he responded, ‘no’ and briskly walked away. I attempted to serve Mr. Gilson twice more, once inside in the courtroom and once outside the courtroom and both times he refused to accept service. Eventually, the bailiff served Mr. Gilson inside the courtroom.”
She argued, “This ex parte motion appears to be a delay tactic and we request the court order that Mr. Gilson cannot stall his own deposition, scheduled for August 1, 2016, because he wants more time to take Ms. Benoit’s deposition.”
She added, “We oppose Mr. Gilson’s request to that we take his deposition via Skype.”
However, in a hearing on July 19 without Ms. Robinson’s or Judge White’s attendance, Judge Johnson in the minute order granted the motion and ordered that “Mr. Gilson’s deposition is not to take place until after Ms. Benoit’s deposition is completed.” Moreover, he added, “If Ms. Benoit’s deposition is by Skype, then Court allows Mr. Gilson’s deposition to be done by Skype.”
In addition, Judge Johnson has allowed the deputy DA’s request for an arrest warrant to be issued for Ms. Benoit. Ms. Robinson was notified less than 24 hours in advance of the hearing and was unable to be present. These changes have been put into place by a visiting judge rather than Judge White, who is far more familiar with the matter and set forth guidelines in the June appearance.
There will be a hearing on August 2 to deal with Ms. Susz’s request for an arrest warrant.
At the last hearing, Deputy DA Susz warned the court that the statute of limitation for a Hague Petition runs out in October. Under the terms of the Hague Convention, an application can be made when a child is taken across an international border without the consent of a parent who has rights of custody.
The complicating matter is that the court has not ruled on whether Mr. Gilson has rights of custody at this point, and, given the allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault, he may be stripped of any rights altogether by the court.
But the statute for that is one year, and that will have run about the same time the trial is conducted. As Ms. Susz pointed out, if that timeline remains, the statute will have run and it will limit Mr. Gilson’s civil remedies.
She gave no indication at that time that she would be seeking an arrest warrant for Ms. Benoit.
Back in November, the judge ordered Ms. Benoit to return to the U.S. to appear for the next hearing.
But, according to Ms. Benoit, it was a fear of domestic violence that made her concerned about returning with the children. Ms. Benoit told her attorney that “the children will be unsafe if left with the father, he is a dangerous man.”
At the January 8, 2016, hearing, DDA Susz brought Mr. Gilson’s extensive criminal record to the attention of visiting Judge Thomas Warriner, explaining that “some of the allegations by mom have been corroborated but we are still investigating this case.”
Court records showed a conviction of felony domestic violence, causing corporal injury on a spouse, and felony stalking by Mr. Gilson involving his ex-wife. He is on probation for those convictions in another county.
Judge Warriner stated at the time, “I can’t ignore those convictions.”
Ms. Benoit’s attorneys will be present for next week’s hearing, again scheduled to be in front of Judge Johnson rather than Judge White.
—David M. Greenwald reporting