Judge Suddenly Shuts Down Public Hearing in Benoit Matter



In a series of moves that are of questionable legality, visiting Judge Arvid Johnson shut down what had to this point been public proceedings in the case of Gilson v. Benoit. In this case, legal questions loom over the status of Claire Benoit, who has fled the country with her children, fearing for the safety of the kids with Mr. Gilson, who has a lengthy criminal record.

In addition to Deputy DA Tiffany Susz, additional officials were present with Deputy County Counsel Sheryl Cambron and Brian Pakpour, an attorney now for the first time representing Mr. Gilson.

Kim Robinson, representing Ms. Benoit, attempted to exercise a peremptory challenge of Judge Johnson under Penal Code section 170.6.

Judge Johnson first ruled that the peremptory challenge needed to be in writing and then he ruled it untimely.

Ms. Robinson argued, “Your Honor, the peremptory challenge does not need to be in writing. It can be made orally. We didn’t know to whom the case was being assigned before we walked in this morning.”

Judge Johnson responded that the matter was before him last time.

Ms. Robinson indicated, “I was not here.”

When Judge Johnson said, “You were here by phone,” Ms. Robinson indicated she was not.  “I did not appear by phone in this department before you. I’ve never appeared in front of you before. And, in fact, the last notice we got of any hearing from — was for July 19, and it was actually noticed for Department 3, Judge White, so I had no idea of your involvement in the case until we got an order in the mail a couple of days ago.”

Mr. Pakpour started to point out that, under 170.6, “once Your Honor has decided a contested issue, which I believe it did at the last hearing…”

But Judge Johnson noted, “170.6, at this point is denied as being untimely.”

Kim Robinson, who believes that Judge Johnson erred in this ruling, will file a writ to the appellate court later this week to challenge it.

In the meantime, Judge Johnson continued to undo the arrangement that Judge White had set up in June to move the case forward to trial.

The judge indicated, “The concern I have, and the reason I’m treating this a little like a juvenile at this point, I would like to ask county counsel and the CPS to inquire and investigate whether or not CPS should be involved and whether or not a protective warrant should issue for the return of the children.”

He continued, “She is clearly in contempt of court. She’s refused to make herself available. She has been ordered back. She is basically hiding in different places in Europe. And my question is whether or not that is grounds in and of itself for a protective warrant for picking up the children and returning the children. I believe that it is, but I don’t know, so I would like CPS and county counsel to look into that.”

In June, Judge Kathleen White, recognizing the delicate situation, attempted to settle the issue of custody for Mr. Gilson who, as the Vanguard has reported, has a lengthy criminal record of abusing two women – his ex-wife and Ms. Benoit, who has accused him of rape that resulted in the birth of their youngest child.

The next hearing is set for Thursday, August 11 at 1:30.

The court then undid the remainder of Judge White’s orders, noting of Ms. Benoit, “She has submitted herself to the jurisdiction of the court. She has refused to come back and refused to appear.”

When Ms. Robinson noted, “She has actually not refused to appear…  She’s been granted permission by Judge White to appear by Skype at the trial in October.”

The judge disagreed stating, “She’s been ordered back, and she’s not come back.”

He continued, “So that’s my question. And I think I know the answer, but I would like to give this to CPS, and then I want to (be) clear that if you would like to talk to the Child Abduction Unit….They are, in essence, an investigating arm of the court, and I think that’s pursuant to Family Code 3130 through 3134.5.

“The Court, pursuant to that, is ordering the District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit to assist and take all steps necessary to locate and secure the return of the children.”

The judge then countermanded Judge White’s decision regarding Skype, saying “that doesn’t make any sense to do a deposition by Skype.”  He added, “So if they want to schedule a deposition, that’s fine, but it needs to be live, not Skype. But hers needs to go first.”

Ms. Robinson noted her “continuing objection regarding the peremptory challenge.”

Mr. Pakpour told the court, “Before we finish here, I have an ex parte motion for custody and to appoint minor’s counsel in this case and to hear that ex parte, and I calendared that for today and I have moving papers on that. But my client would be okay hearing that on the 11th.”

At this point, the Vanguard through its attorney will file a motion to re-open the court as a public matter.  Kim Robinson plans to file her objection to Judge Johnson at the next hearing.

In June, Judge White had ordered this matter to trial in October with depositions to occur via Skype this summer.  At this point, that timeline is in jeopardy as Ms. Benoit is in Europe and unlikely to return to the country to allow the court system to have a chance of putting her children in the custody of Mr. Gilson.

As the Vanguard reported last week, Mr. Gilson has a lengthy criminal record of domestic abuse and stalking.  A Contra Costa County judge ordered him into intense therapy before the custody situation with his two kids from a previous marriage could be adjudicated.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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30 thoughts on “Judge Suddenly Shuts Down Public Hearing in Benoit Matter”

  1. Tia Will

    I would be interested in knowing a little more about the backgrounds and previous decision making of both Judges White and Johnson. It seems quite remarkable to me that one Judge would take it upon himself to virtually completely undo the process of another judge without extensive comment on the legal basis for that decision. If I am incorrect and this is not an unusual situation, I will stand corrected and better informed.

    1. Highbeam

      I, in my limited experience, have never seen a visiting judge –or a judge taking over a case – not respect the decisions of a prior judge. There may be new considerations, but I have always seen a judge explain his or her reasoning for making changes.

  2. ryankelly

    Could CPS look at both parents and report on the criminal background of the father or is the focus on the mother?  It sounds more and more like the Court is aligned with the wishes of the father over the mother and she will lose her children to the custody of the father or foster care if she returns.  Maybe Rexroad is right that the system needs looking at.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s been my concern for the start on this and why I believe Claire fleeing was a reasonable response (even if it wasn’t lawful). I think both this judge (less so than White) and the DA are aligned with the father. THis is all very baffling.

  3. Davis Progressive

    there are so many problems here, i really don’t know where to start.

    first, there is no basis to exclude the public.  nothing published here is private or privileged information.

    second, the judge conducted a hearing without one of the parties even being present.

    third, the judge used that as a hearing to deny the 170.6 motion to exclude.  that will get overturned.

    it’s clear that the da and judge are colluding here.  also a week ago gilson was claiming he couldn’t afford an attorney, now he has pakpour- how is that?

  4. MamaBear

    This court seems really bent on either endangering my kids or traumatizing them beyond repair. All the moving in the world could not exact a fraction of the damage this court seems to intend for them.

    Just to clarify: I NEVER FLED with my children. We visited France for what was intended to be a 3 month stay. Eric is not on my children’s birth certificates as he was present at neither birth. Eric has never had any custody of my children (other than a temporary ruling issued erroneously in one of his earlier fraudulently filed ex-partes. Where he he was permitted to use a text message from his own phone to my old phone as “proof of service”). I never got the message of course. That temporary ruling of custody was almost immediately “stayed” (cancelled) and upon closer inspection of his background, for a while it seemed the court was moving toward considering the welfare of my kids. At least I had hope.

    Nonetheless, we have since been blackmailed with threats into staying in Europe because we are safer here than within physical reach of a jurisdiction that seems wildly dysfunctional or insensitive. Maybe both.

  5. Michael Harrington

    If someone unilaterally takes kids away and violates a court order, I think it is very appropriate that CPS look into the fitness of the kidnapping parent, and the entire family situation.  Yes, the kids should be brought back for a thorough evaluation.  Maybe Momma Bear is part of the problem here, and the decisions of Judge Johnson seem to suggest that he wants to look at the entire picture.  I completely agree.

  6. Tia Will


    If someone unilaterally takes kids away and violates a court order”

    You may be correct. But from MamaBear’s account, that is not what happened in this case.

    1. MamaBear

      Exactly that Tia, and I’ve got the documents to prove it.

      Not only that; but the court has, like the Deputy DA, made it impossible for me to trust an unbiased ANYTHING in their courtroom at this point.

      Call me cynical but I don’t believe the court would want to acknowledge me as being a fit parent, considering their conduct thus far. It could make them liable. (Just thinking here). So while I have no doubts about my bearings as a parent, I do doubt the integrity of this court’s intentions at this point.

      And the recent actions of Arvid Johnson has validated my skepticism.

    2. Michael Harrington

      I haven’t studied this or been in court to watch or even read the court file, but my overall impression is that there was an adverse court order, and she fled.  And there have been subsequent orders to return?

      So, I am sorry, but the mother needs to bring them back.  If not, issue an international arrest warrant.  It fundamentally calls into question HER fitness to parent, coupled with her choices that set all this public and private drama up.   I support using all local, national and international judicial and DA resources to get the kids back for a thorough CPS evaluation of how the kids are doing, and what the heck is so screwed up in their family’s situation that would have caused this?

      It takes two to tango, and something tells me that CPS had really better take a hard look at both dance partners.  You know full well that those kids are totally screwed up from the home drama here, and now life on the lam in Europe.


      That said, the father should be subject to all available CPS and judicial and law enforcement scrutiny, both for his conduct, and fitness to actively parent these children.  Sometimes kids are better off if a parent is never in their lives ….

      1. MamaBear

        I am not going to comment on these threads any further – only because it is probable that some hope to use my truthful words against me.

        My kids are not living on the lam. They are living quite well.

        And while I’d never pretend to be perfect, I have known some really orthodox households to raise screw-ups.

        I would question the overall health of someone who would make such disparaging assumptions of children immediately after proclaiming their own ignorance to the overall circumstance.

        Anyway, I have no issues with being evaluated – but not in a court who may fear liability for the drama of this case if acknowledged that it was totally wrong.

      2. Tia Will


        It takes two to tango, and something tells me that CPS had really better take a hard look at both dance partners.”

        I really have to take exception to this comment. It does not always take “two to tango” in the case of a violent and abusive relationship. It is entirely for one partner to be the perpetrator of all of the abuse while the other and/or the children are being victimized. It is entirely possible for the only alternative of the victimized party is to flee since the state is not infrequently unwilling and/or incapable of providing adequate protection. I happen to know this to be true as one of my work colleagues ( not in this area) ended up dead at the hands of her abuser approximately 30 years ago. I guarantee you that she was not a partner in the “tango” at the time of her death.

  7. Napoleon Pig IV

    Just because someone becomes a judge does not mean said person is a good person or even an intelligent person, much less an honest person.

    Just because someone commits a dishonest act does not mean said act is wrong.

    Just because someone works for the DA’s office doesn’t mean she gives a damn about the best interests of “the People.”

    Good luck, MamaBear! It’s a shame you’ve run into such a low quality version of what some people call the “justice” system.

  8. Michael Harrington

    Mama Bear:  reading about this mess, I am sorry for this happening to the kids.  You are a fundamental part of the drama.  The Court will bring them back, one way or the other.  You should come back, respect our legal system, and allow CPS to assist in a thorough evaluation of the situation, and the fitness to parent of both of you.  I’ve been a lawyer for 25 years, and when I read your posts, they come across somehow as shrill, a little crazy, that YOU are always right and no one else is.  Like you wont accept responsibility for being a dance partner to this guy, and have something to hide from CPS if they do a proper home study.


    If you have nothing to worry about, why hide?  Judge Johnson is the new marshal in town, and respect him and the court, and bring them back.  If you stay there, and they find you (and trust me, as someone who has handled investigations for 25 years, they will find you …), then I would think CPS cannot help but conclude there are fundamental problems with your fitness to parent …

    Talk to your lawyer ,,, and bring them back.

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      Michael Harrington,

      You have a remarkably positive and optimistic view of our legal system, and I won’t even sarcastically suggest it was over-indulgence in Kool-Aid that got you there, given your legal background.

      On the basis of plenty of objective facts and evidence (true facts, as opposed to the kind often spouted by lawyers in briefs and in court), I have no such optimism, but I won’t elaborate. I think MamaBear is doing the only rational thing, in the best interest of her kids, under these circumstances. Something stinks in our local court, and it is isn’t the carpet.

        1. Napoleon Pig IV

          Trusting the Yolo County bench is something to aspire to, perhaps. But, it’s something that will not be rational for many years to come, if this case is any indication. It’s too bad, because there are some decent judges and honest, competent assistant DAs – but not associated with this case currently.

    2. Tia Will

      If you have nothing to worry about, why hide? “

      Because she certainly does have something to worry about. She has to worry that the court will do as it so often does, namely place the biological rights of a father who has never participated in the care of her children above the well being of the children. Perhaps you have never seen this occur, but I most certainly have.

    3. Tia Will


      when I read your posts, they come across somehow as shrill, a little crazy, that YOU are always right and no one else is”

      Are you the same Michael Harrington who accused supporters of Nishi of trying to expose students to the “toxic soup” referring to the air at Nishi ?  Hard to give credibility to your referring to anyone else as “shrill”, and “a little crazy”.

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