When Rebecca Firlit joined a virtual court hearing with her ex-husband earlier this month, she expected the proceedings to revolve around child support. The judge, on the other hand, had other ideas.
“One of the first questions he asked me… was whether or not I was vaccinated,” Firlit, 39, said.
She wasn’t, she explained, citing “adverse reactions to vaccines in the past” and a doctor’s advice against getting vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“There is a risk,” she added.
Cook County Judge James Shapiro then made an unprecedented decision, according to the parents’ attorneys: he said the mother could not see her 11-year-old son until she received a coronavirus vaccine. Fernholz stated, “The father did not even bring this issue before the court.” “So it’s the judge on his own who decides you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated.”
Other states’ judges have reduced sentences for defendants who choose to get vaccines, or have made the vaccine a condition of release for some inmates. Some defendants in the 19th Judicial District Court in East Baton Rouge were given the option of getting vaccinated instead of completing community service hours by a judge.
In Ohio, two judges have also ordered that some people receive the vaccine as a condition of their probation. Likewise, two Georgia judges are reducing sentences for some offenders who receive a vaccine. In New York, judges in the Bronx and Manhattan ordered defendants to receive a vaccine as part of their rehabilitation and as a condition of seeking bail, respectively.
However, the Chicago judge’s decision appears to be the first of its kind. According to WFLD, Firlit and her ex-husband, Matthew Duiven, have been divorced for seven years. According to court documents, they have shared custody of their 11-year-old son since June 2014. The Aug. 10 hearing had nothing to do with revising the custody agreement, according to Firlit’s lawyer, so no one expected the judge to ask the boy’s mother if she was vaccinated. Firlit was perplexed by the judge’s question.
“I was perplexed because it was supposed to be just about expenses and child support,” she explained. “When I asked what it had to do with the hearing, he said, ‘I am the judge, and I make the decisions in your case.’ ”
The judge then revoked her custody of her son until she had received full immunization.
Firlit did not say whether she would be vaccinated, but she did say she plans to appeal the decision because she believes the judge overstepped his authority. She went on to say that taking a son away from his mother is “wrong.”
“I believe it is dividing families,” she says. “And I don’t think it’s in my son’s best interests to be separated from his mother.”
Jeffery M. Leving, the father’s attorney, who did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Sunday, said he did not expect the judge to inquire about vaccinations or change the custody arrangement. However, he stated that he agreed with the judge’s decision. “There have been children who have died as a result of covid,” Leving said. “I believe that every child should be safe. And I agree with you that the mother should be immunized.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the number of children infected with the highly contagious delta variant has increased exponentially in recent months. The American Academy of Family Physicians has also warned that there is a growing risk that unvaccinated children will suffer “severe and long-term consequences” to their health.
Firlit stated that she is struggling with the separation from her son, with whom she is only permitted to communicate via phone.