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