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Judge in controversial child support case recuses himself

The Cook County judge who barred a mother from seeing her son because she wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 and then reversed his decision weeks later recused himself from her case Tuesday.

During an Aug. 10 hearing about child support, Cook County Judge James Shapiro asked Rebecca Firlit if she was vaccinated against COVID-19. After she responded that she wasn’t for a medical reason, Shapiro issued an order banning her from seeing her son until she was vaccinated. 
During an Aug. 10 hearing about child support, Cook County Judge James Shapiro asked Rebecca Firlit if she was vaccinated against COVID-19. After she responded that she wasn’t for a medical reason, Shapiro issued an order banning her from seeing her son until she was vaccinated. 
Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images file photo

The Cook County judge who barred a mother from seeing her son because she wasn’t vaccinated against COVID-19 and then reversed his decision weeks later recused himself from her case Tuesday.

In a statement distributed by a court spokesman, Cook County Judge James Shapiro said “Although I believe I can be fair and impartial, the Canons of Judicial Ethics speak to the perception of fairness and impartiality as well as fairness and impartiality itself. Public perception may be that I can’t be fair and impartial. Therefore, I am going to recuse myself from further proceedings in this case.”

The case Shapiro was referring to is the child support case between Rebecca Firlit and her ex-husband, Matthew Duiven.

During an Aug. 10 hearing about child support, Shapiro asked Firlit if she was vaccinated against COVID-19. After she responded that she wasn’t for a medical reason, Shapiro issued an order banning her from seeing her son until she was vaccinated.

Firlit told the Chicago Sun-Times that she “had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk.”

Shapiro was sharply criticized by court-watchers as well as Firlit’s attorney, Annette Fernholz, who said in her client’s case, the judge was “very much exceeding his judicial authority.”

On Monday, Shapiro issued a new order without elaboration that revoked his order that kept Firlit from seeing her son. He did not respond to a request to comment.

The Chicago Sun-Times also learned that in at least two different child support hearings in July, Shapiro asked other parents about their vaccination status and admitted to ordering some parents and children to be vaccinated.

Reached Monday after Shapiro changed his order, 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 Duiven, called the judge’s reversal “unfortunate.”

“I am working on an emergency motion right now to fight it,” Leving said Monday.

Now, the case will have to continue with a new judge. Mary Wisniewski, director of communications for Chief Judge Tim Evans of Cook County Circuit Court, did not have the next court date in the case available.