OAKLAND COUNTY, MICH. - Oakland County Circuit Judge Karen McDonald is facing online harassment, including calls for her to "die a painful death," for her handling of two controversial cases involving divorced parents who disagree about vaccines.
McDonald has drawn the online ire of vaccine critics, upset with her decision to order a 9-year-old boy immunized over the objections of his mother. In a separate case, McDonald has questioned the qualifications of a witness brought in to argue vaccines are harmful.
Some of the videos online called for McDonald's execution. Another said "time to kill the judge" and one said it's "time to put a bullet in that f---ing judge's head."
One YouTube user posted a 41-second video titled "Why Judge Karen McDonald must die a painful death."
"If she can get away with this, the b----h has got to die. The b----h has got to die."
The video poster refers to McDonald as a judge in California, perhaps confusing Oakland County, Michigan, with the city of Oakland, California.
Oakland County Undersheriff Michael McCabe said the posts are offensive but don't appear to rise to the level of a criminal threat.
"We had the computer crimes unit look at it," McCabe said. "We met with the prosecutors and determined jointly that there is no crime. There are definitely offensive posts, but not every offensive post is a crime."
Oakland County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Paul Walton said the U.S. Supreme Court has narrowly defined what kind of messages constitute a threat.
"A true threat is the communication of a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence against a particular individual or group of individuals," Walton said.
The online hopes for her death don't meet that legal standard, Walton said. If new, more specific threats were made, detectives and prosecutors can revisit them, he said.
McDonald told the Free Press through a staffer that the postings caused unnecessary stress not only for her, but for her staff and her family, adding that she wouldn't be deterred.
"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what I was elected to do and make decisions based on what is in the best interests of children," McDonald said. "I'm going to do it after I listen to the facts and hear both sides. The fact that judges have to endure threats of physical violence via social media with virtually no protection or recourse is another matter and one that needs to be addressed."
Two vaccine cases
Earlier this month, McDonald sent a Ferndale mother, Rebecca Bredow, to jail for ignoring a court order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son. Court pleadings show that Bredow agreed months ago to the vaccinations. But her current attorney, Clarence Dass, told the Free Press those pleadings were filed in error by a lawyer who no longer represents her.
Bredow emerged from a 5-day jail stint to learn that her son had been vaccinated while in custody of his father. She's asking McDonald to halt any additional vaccines.
In the second case, another divorced mother, Lori Matheson of Walled Lake, doesn't want her 2-year-old daughter immunized. But Matheson's ex-husband, Michael Schmitt of Troy, does.
Matheson testified for more than an hour about her religious and personal objections to vaccines and later called Dr. Toni Lynn Bark, an Evanston, Ill., doctor as a witness to argue against vaccinations.
Bark testified that she's practiced in pediatrics, emergency medicine and adversonomics, the study of adverse reactions to vaccines. McDonald seemed skeptical and refused to consider Bark a vaccine expert, though she allowed her to testify about the things she's done in her own practice.
Matheson is asking McDonald to delay any vaccinations until she can conduct genetic testing to see if her daughter is predisposed to adverse reactions to vaccines. The hearing is scheduled to resume next month.
Public health professionals overwhelmingly champion vaccines as a prevention tool that has saved millions of lives.
"Vaccines have reduced – and in some cases eliminated – many diseases that killed or severely disabled people in previous generations," Robert Wheaton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told the Free Press earlier this month. "Vaccines are safe, effective and benefit everyone."
A 2011 report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reviewed more than 1,000 research articles on the topic and concluded that "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines" and that "the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism."
The report acknowledged that "vaccines are not free from side effects, 'or adverse effects,' but most are very rare or very mild."
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