Judge overturns order that banned unvaccinated mother from seeing son

‘One of the first things he asked me when I got on the Zoom call was whether or not I was vaccinated, which threw me off because I asked him what it had to do with the hearing,’ mother says

Jade Bremner
Tuesday 31 August 2021 18:08 BST
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Judge James Shapiro is allegedly the first jurist to use non-vaccination as a punitive measure.

However, Judge Shapiro has now reversed his decision that banned an Illinois mother from seeing her 11-year-old son, after she claimed he had made the decision due to her not being vaccinated.

Rebecca Firlit, 39, said she was perplexed as a recent hearing was “just supposed to be about expenses and child support”, she told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“One of the first things he asked me when I got on the Zoom call was whether or not I was vaccinated, which threw me off because I asked him what it had to do with the hearing. He said, ‘I am the judge, and I make the decisions for your case,’” explained Ms Firlit.

The Cook County judge’s one-paragraph order did not go into detail on why he had blocked Ms Firlit’s visitation rights, stating “this court hereby VACATES paragraph 3 of its August 11, 2021 order based on the absence of a pleading or hearing on serious endangerment”.

Ms Firlit’s legal council, Annette Fernholz, filed a legal challenge against the ruling. “The trial court clearly exceeded its authority in suspending the mother’s parenting time when the issue before the court was child support,” Ms Fernholz said in a statement.

Ms Firlit explained that her decision not to take the vaccine was for medical reasons: “I’ve had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor.”

She explained how her son was emotionally affected by the lack of personal contact when the visitation ban was in place and cried on the phone, stating that rulings like this were “dividing families”.

After the reversal, Ms Firlit explained that she was “extremely happy, I’m going to see my son right now”.

She added: “I know that they are going to say that I’m an endangerment to my son. This isn’t over for me.”

This isn’t the first time Judge James Shapiro has been accused of bringing vaccination statuses into an unrelated case.

In another child support hearing, Edward Hambrick, 48, of Joliet, Texas, had a virtual court hearing with the judge.

After learning about Ms Firlit’s case he shared clips of his hearing on TikTok. The voice of Judge Shapiro is supposedly heard asking Mr Hambrick if he had been vaccinated. “That is a personal question,” Mr Hambrick says in the footage. “For me to answer that would be in violation of HIPAA,” says Mr Hambrick, referring to the US federal law prevents healthcare providers from sharing medical information concerning their patients.

Mr Hambrick then tells the judge that he had consulted with nurses and doctors in his family before he came to his decision.

“I would be very surprised if you consulted with a doctor who advised you not to get vaccinated,” Judge Shapiro is allegedly heard saying.

“I would not be as surprised if you consulted with a nurse who did not get vaccinated because nurses apparently in Houston and elsewhere are refusing to get vaccinated. That speaks a lot to their intelligence level and I would not want to be treated by a nurse who refused to get vaccinated. It’s not a choice, Mr Hambrick, it’s an obligation.”

The Independent has contacted Judge James Shapiro at Cook County Court for a statement.

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