The Cook County judge who barred a mother from seeing her son because she wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 also has asked other parents in his courtroom about their vaccination status and admitted to ordering some parents and children to be vaccinated, the Sun-Times has learned.
In both cases, Judge James Shapiro appears to have initiated the discussion of vaccination status.
In the more recent case, Shapiro on Monday revoked his order that had kept a divorced Pilsen mother from seeing her 11-year-old son.
Shapiro’s one-paragraph order in the case of Rebecca Firlit gives no reason for his change of heart, stating simply that “this court hereby VACATES paragraph 3 of its August 11, 2021 order based on the absence of a pleading or hearing on serious endangerment” pursuant to Illinois law.
Annette Fernholz, the attorney representing Firlit, said in her client’s case, the judge was “very much exceeding his judicial authority.”
“I’ve had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk,” Firlit told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Reached Monday, Firlit said: “I’m extremely happy, I’m going to see my son right now.” But she added: “I know that they are going to say that I’m an endangerment to my son. This isn’t over for me.”
Jeffery Leving, attorney for Firlit’s ex-husband Matthew Duiven, called the judge’s reversal “unfortunate.”
“I am working on an emergency motion right now to fight it,” Leving said Monday.
Judge raised vaccination status in other cases
In an unrelated child support case in late July, Edward Hambrick of Joliet said, Shapiro was presiding at a virtual court hearing when he asked Hambrick if he’d been vaccinated.
Hambrick, a 48-year-old computer consultant, would not answer, telling the judge it was personal.
Hambrick said he video-recorded his Zoom court hearing, which is against court rules, because of what he said was a bad experience with the court system in the past. He decided to share the video — which he broke up into eight shorter videos on TikTok Sunday — after learning about the judge’s decision against Firlit. The decision has garnered international media attention.
The videos were shot from behind a laptop and focused on Hambrick. The screen is not visible, but both Shapiro and Hambrick can be heard.
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the videos to Mary Wisniewski, director of communications for Chief Judge Tim Evans of Cook County Circuit Court, for verification. She responded in an email, writing “that does sound like Judge Shapiro” and added that it is against court rules to record hearings without prior permission from the chief judge’s office.
In one video, viewed more than 67,000 times, Shapiro brings up the subject of COVID-19 vaccines.
“Have you been vaccinated?” Shapiro asks Hambrick.
A discussion begins over whether the question violates HIPAA, a federal law governing the release of an individual’s health information by health care providers and insurance plans.
Then, Shapiro tells him that “it would behoove you to get vaccinated, sir. ... It’s not a personal question because it affects other people, OK? And it does not violate HIPAA.”
Hambrick tells Shapiro that he has consulted with family members who are nurses and doctors.
“I would be very surprised if you consulted with a doctor who advised you not to get vaccinated,” Shapiro says.
“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.”
‘It’s just dumb not to get vaccinated,’ judge says
In another video shot and posted by Hambrick, Shapiro is heard telling another man during a different hearing on the same day that he should be vaccinated and admits to ordering some parents and some children to be vaccinated.
“It’s just dumb not to get vaccinated,” Shapiro tells the man. “Nobody with half a brain is not getting vaccinated these days. The only people not getting vaccinated are dying, OK. So I urge you and your daughter to get vaccinated. It’s stupid not to and I have been ordering parents to get vaccinated and some kids to get vaccinated also. That’s how strongly I feel about the efficacy of this vaccine. Reasonable minds cannot differ about this vaccine.”
Hambrick, who said he is not vaccinated because he feels it is unsafe, said the issue “has absolutely nothing to do with my case.”
Family law attorney Joseph Emmerth, who is based in suburban Warrenville, said Shapiro’s questions are “a disturbing and uncalled-for overreach,” because “somebody’s medical history and medical choices are really not the court’s business to start with.”
Hambrick, who is representing himself, is scheduled to appear in front of Shapiro again on Sept. 21 but has filed a petition for a new judge.
Shapiro did not respond to a request for comment.