Advocacy Group Questions DA’s Priorities in Benoit Case

The case of Claire Benoit remains in limbo in the family court system as the mother remains in Europe with her children.  Despite documented evidence about the criminal record of Eric Gilson, father of the two youngest children, the DA’s office is moving to prosecute the mother for parental abduction.

In a letter to the DA’s office, Connie Valentine of the California Protective Parents Association, writes on February 22 to Yolo County DA Jeff Reisig:

“Our organization has been following the case of Benoit v Gilson for the past year.  We are curious why the Yolo County District Attorney’s Child Abduction Unit is so focused on a woman named Claire Benoit who had full custody of two toddlers when she went to live in Europe with her children.

“Their father Eric Gilson was allowed supervised visitation which he never exercised. It appears she may have been technically in contempt of the court order,” she continues.  “The reason for the supervised visits is that Mr. Gilson is a dangerous man, convicted of battery against his former wife [“VF”] and working as a remarkably unsavory rapper under the pseudonym of Rico Rossi.”

The letter notes, “Despite this, Yolo County family court gave him custody in order to lure Ms. Benoit back to the United States. The Yolo County Child Abduction Unit is singularly focused on locating and arresting her. She is not the dangerous parent.

“Last week, despite the concern expressed by the children’s attorney John Myers that capturing their mother and separating the small children from her would be traumatizing for them, and the fact that the father is so dangerous that the children would go into foster care if they were brought back to the United States rather than go with the father, the District Attorney Child Abduction Unit continued to support the batterer with oddly misplaced enthusiasm,” the letter continues.

“Neither of these parents even live in Yolo County,” she notes.  Ms. Valentine concludes, “There are many violent people in Yolo County. This situation makes a mockery of law and order. Citizens expect taxpayer resources to be spent judiciously, against dangerous individuals. The District Attorney’s office has a choice on which cases they decide to expend time and money. Please go after violent criminals, not mothers trying to keep their children safe.”

Judge Kathleen White awarded Mr. Gilson unsupervised visits on November 2, 2015, despite his history of violence.  Following the ruling, Ms. Benoit did not return from Europe.

In March of 2016, Deputy DA Tiffany Susz sent an ominous email, that the Vanguard received a copy of, to Claire Benoit, warning her that she is “in violation of the Yolo County Superior Court Judge’s order. The court’s order from January 27, 2016, required you and the children to return to Yolo County by today’s date.”

With Ms. Benoit refusing to return, a fall trial was vacated by visiting Judge Arvid Johnson in August, who ruled that Mr. Gilson would have full custody, nominally but not physically, of the children in an attempt to force Ms. Benoit to return from where she has been in Europe with the children since the fall of 2015.

In a June hearing, Judge Kathleen 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.

In June, Kim Robinson had proposed 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 was not ideal, she would look into it, as Skype would be better than no participation at all.

At that 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.

At another hearing last year, 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.”

At this point, Judge McAdam, not wishing to proceed without the presence of Ms. Benoit, has not set any more court dates.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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  1. KaiLei Johnson

    I wish more than anything more was being done to look into the family courts real priorities. Because its absolutely not the best interest of the children thats for sure. Judge white favors fathers and often refuses to look at evidence painting a father in a bad light. As long as he shows up and plays the part of a dad who wants to be involved it doesnt matter whats really going on or what damage is being done. I myself am seriously considering the same option as this mother ….because it seems to TRULY be the only option left to keep my son safe. Ive gone to police and cps and begged the court to stop ignoring the truth and nothing is being done. Then im threatened with jail and she will award him full custody if i dont comply….. What else can you do but take your child and run??? This case isnt the only one like this…..its one of many and somethings got to change in the family court system!!

  2. Claire Benoit

    One thing that I recall (after reflecting on this entire ordeal)…

    after my initial hearing (when judge White told me my son being the product of rape was irrelevant because it was not an abuse of my children, but of me. “I don’t want to hear about what he did to YOU. My only interest is direct abuse of your children… (and then later) direct abuse of your children that’s more recent than 3 months.” (We hadn’t seen Eric in approx 5-6 months at that point. To that White said “people change.”

    After that hearing (or maybe before -I don’t even remember now) I went to te legal aid center to ask for advice. Whoever the young woman was that helped me asked who my judge was. When I told her judge White she winced and warned me to be very careful not to use the phrase “my kids” when referring to these children I gave birth to alone (Eric tried to kill himself for the 2nd time during my labor with our first child together so he wasn’t there. On my second one – conceived coercively- he was not welcome anyway… not that he even tried. I had to drive myself to the hospital in labor). and had cared for exclusively alone. She said that would trigger White’s anger because she hates when “women say that”… and other warnings about verbiage I was to use/not use.

    It sounded less like I was going before a rational just court official and more like I was appearing before someone who was reliving their personal experiences and values through the people appearing in their court…

    its felt the same with the Yolo DA.

    ive given up on my case but this is a problem in our system, as I see it… last week the DA collected accolades for sending a guy to prison for throwing a dog. Nice work, however Brett Pedroia got 6 months probation for raping a child. The DA commented that he “loves dogs and the (recent) case made (him) nauseous.” Is that what’s dictating how heavy handed the law is delivered? Whether it strikes a personal chord with the people we rely on to be neutral and even handed… whether they like a particular individual or appreciate their lifestyle?

    a strong title doesn’t exempt anyone from the pitfalls of being human. There needs to be a more efficient checks/balances system in all of these courts… most especially family courts as children are ending up terribly damaged if not dead in cases like mine. (When moms “comply”).

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