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Breastfeeding in court: judge says "I object!"

 
 
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 10:25 am
A mother is sounding off, saying a judge humiliated her for breastfeeding in court.

Natalie Hegedus says it happened Tuesday at the 7th District Court in Paw Paw. She was there fighting a boating ticket that led to a bench warrant when she missed her initial court appearance.

“I cried for two hours,” said Hegedus, “I sat here and cried, calling up breastfeeding friends to tell them what had just happened to me.”

Hegedus says she was in court with her five-month-old son, Landen, on Tuesday, just days after he was violently ill.

“His temperature had spiked to 104 degrees,” said Hegedus. “We ended up in Paw Paw emergency room.”

Because Landen still had a fever, Hegedus says she had no choice but to bring him to court with her, and after two and a half hours of waiting, Landen woke up, needing to eat.

“I had a shirt that I knew would be appropriate to breastfeed him and a nursing tank top that just unsnaps,” said Hegedus.

Once Landen began eating, Judge Robert Hentchel called Hegedus' case.

“The judge asks me if I thought it was appropriate to do that in court,” said Hegedus. “My response was very gauged and I said that considering the fact that my son is sick and he's hungry and the fact that it's not illegal, I don't find it inappropriate.”

“And how did he respond to that?” asked Newschannel 3's Jared Werksma.

“Something to the lines of 'it's his court, his rules and he does,'” said Hegedus.

In the court transcript, Hentchel says “You think that's appropriate in here?”

Hegedus responds “it's not illegal, I have to feed my son,” and Hentchel says “Ma'am, it's my courtroom, I decide what's appropriate in here, come on up, okay. You have to understand that a judge, the laws don't apply in a courtroom, the judge's law applies, do you understand that?

Hegedus responds with “Yes” and Hentcell says “Okay, we're going to get along just fine.”

“It was very short, he was very, very short,” said Hegedus. “It came across as raising his voice and being abrasive to me.”

Newschannel 3 wasn't allowed to speak with Judge Hentcel directly, but the 7th District Court Chief Judge Paul Hamre told us;

“It's inappropriate to come before the court on criminal charges holding your baby. I don't allow that in my court. I don't believe Hentchel did anything inappropriate, he did not sanction her, he did not raise his voice, he did not find her in contempt, he didn't even ask her to leave the courtroom.”

Hegedus says that's not how she interpreted it.

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Type: Discussion • Score: 7 • Views: 3,221 • Replies: 29

 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 10:29 am
@joefromchicago,
She's contacted several attorneys?

If he penalized her in some way, or refused to see her at all until she'd handed off the baby to someone, I'd get her outrage a bit more.

But it does seem disproportionate.

Meanwhile, I think the judge is stupid for getting exercised about it, too, but I take the point that it's his courtroom and he can impose stupid conditions.
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 10:38 am
Just as a matter of curiousity, Joe, just how accurate is it for him to say it's his courtroom, and therefore his rules?
joefromchicago
 
  3  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 11:25 am
@Setanta,
Well, it's accurate insofar as nobody really wants to tell a judge that he can't make up all of his own rules.
Rockhead
 
  2  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 11:29 am
@joefromchicago,
like any other minor deity, judges have their little quirks.

it makes them more human...
0 Replies
 
aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 11:37 am
I wonder how appropriate he'd have found it if the baby had started screaming because he was hungry.

As a mother who breastfed, I know that when a breastfed baby gets hungry and you're the mom and you're holding that baby, they don't really take no for an answer.
In terms of the court and its proceedings, her feeding the baby was probably the least intrusive solution to having him in the court. And it's not like she could go outside and do it. I know I've gone with students to those courts and you have to just sit there until they call your name and if you're out of the room when they call you - tough luck - you've missed your chance to appear before the court.

And maybe it was inappropriate to have the baby in the court, but when you breastfeed - you have to be available to the baby at all times. You can't just leave the kid for hours, unless you pump and the baby is used to taking a bottle. You have to condition the baby to take a bottle instead of or along with the breast - you can't just wake up one day and say, 'Oh yeah - I have court today - this baby can take a bottle instead of the breast while I'm in court.'

0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 11:38 am
@sozobe,
The only time I've ever seen anyone take a baby into a courtroom is when a family comes in for a name change. I'm not sure why she couldn't have arranged for a sitter to look after her kid. If that was impossible, she could probably have contacted the court and had them change the date of the hearing, except that she was responding to a bench warrant because she had already missed a previous hearing -- judges tend to be less accommodating to folks seeking a new hearing date if they have a history of blowing off hearing dates. And even if she had no alternative but to attend court with her baby, I'm sure she could have contacted the court staff, explained her situation, and had her case called early to avoid the situation in which she eventually found herself. Or she could have just gotten a lawyer -- one of those non-breastfeeding lawyers, of course.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 11:50 am
@joefromchicago,
The article explains that the baby had been sick -- I do get that part, totally.

She probably could have and should have contacted the court staff and explained the situation. Did she know she had that option? (I'm not sure it would spring to mind, for me, not having been in a courtroom situation.)
Questioner
 
  2  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 11:58 am
@joefromchicago,
Out of curiosity, and I ask this not having any children myself, is it usually not acceptable to get a trusted baby sitter or family member to look after a sick infant when the mother/father have to go to something like this? It just seems highly odd to me that a woman would bring an ill infant out of the house, much less to a courtroom.

That along with this tidbit: "She was there fighting a boating ticket that led to a bench warrant when she missed her initial court appearance." leads me to be less than sympathetic with her. I'm drawing some wild conclusions here as an armchair observer, but she strikes me as the type of person who doesn't respect any kind of authority but her own, and when someone else tries to reprimand her she lashes out in any and all ways she is able.

tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:11 pm
@Questioner,
Well my thoughts coincidentally echoed yours Questioner.

There were several things in this story that could have prevented this courtroom chastising.

1. A phone call, a letter, or an email from the defendant to the appropriate agency: "Sorry, I can't attend hearing number 1 due to circumstances beyond my control."

Thus no bench warrant issued and the initial appointment changed.
2. A babysitter (relative or 3rd party) to take charge of the child during the bench warrant hearing.
3. Walking up to a bailiff and telling him that she needs to step out of the courtroom in order to feed "a sick child" and that she'd be back in 10 minutes (guesstimate).
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:11 pm
@Questioner,
It can certainly be done. I get the mother's desire to keep her baby with her when he'd recently been so sick, though (to the point of going to the ER), and was still sick.

When my daughter was a baby and she would get that sick she was pretty much glued to me. Nobody else would do (this wasn't the case in general) and fevers plus very upset baby were not a good mix. (Vomiting --> dehydration --> ER --> not trivial.)

Again, I think this woman has overreacted from what little I know. I also don't think it's that horrible or inappropriate for her to breastfeed under these circumstances.
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:14 pm
@sozobe,
The question is what would she have done if her case had been called in the middle of the child's feeding? Continue feeding her child in the middle of arguing her case?
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:17 pm
@tsarstepan,
That was what happened. She was waiting, and then after 2.5 hours her son woke up and was hungry and she started feeding him.

From the original article:

Quote:
Once Landen began eating, Judge Robert Hentchel called Hegedus' case.


(Emphasis mine.)

I am always surprised that people find breastfeeding to be such a big deal. Who cares?
aidan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:17 pm
@Questioner,
I can totally relate to where this woman was coming from.
If my child had been sick and I was a breastfeeding mom and I didn't know how long I would have to be gone - I'd have brought my baby with me. I might have also brought someone else along to hold the baby outside the courtroom, etc. - but if a baby is used to the breast - they often just WILL NOT take a bottle. This means that the mom could be gone for six or seven hours and the baby would be hungry and stressed and crying the whole time.
And this is on top of the baby having been sick.
No - I wouldn't leave my child with anyone in that situation.
And I know for a fact that unless you have an emergency - they're not very amenable to changing your date in these court scenarios.
I think she did the best she could under the circumstances.

Okay - yes- sometimes you can manage these situations somewhat by pumping breast milk and weaning the baby onto a bottle - but this takes time and planning.
Maybe she didn't want her child to be given the bottle. Sometimes that puts them off the breast. I understand where she's coming from totally.
She sounds like a caring and compassionate mother - maybe not a good defendant or boat driver - but a mom who puts her baby first.
Sue her for that.

Let's put it this way. I've been babysitting and caring for children since I was twelve years old and I feel very competent in this area. But if a friend said to me, 'Look, I have to go out for the day. I have no idea how long I'll be. My baby has never taken a bottle and has only been breastfed. Can you babysit for him or her for the day?'
I'd be like, 'Oh Lord - well if I HAVE to I'll try, ' but I would ready myself for a very, very stressful time because I'd feel so damn bad for the baby who was hungry and couldn't get fed as they were accustomed to being fed.
Breastfed babies often reject a bottle's rubber nipple. They feel strange. They don't recognize them or like them.

Anyway - what's the big deal with breastfeeding a baby? It's a fact of life.
If that's the worst thing that ever happens in this guy's courtroom - he's a lucky judge.
0 Replies
 
parados
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:17 pm
@joefromchicago,
Quote:
Or she could have just gotten a lawyer -- one of those non-breastfeeding lawyers, of course.


You must be referring to one of those blood-sucking ones.
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:23 pm
@sozobe,
It isn't illegal to chew gum, wear hats, listen to MP3 players, etc....

Judges have the prerogative to dictate what goes on in his courtroom in order to keep the proceedings distraction free. I feel these other alleged aesthetic sins are even lesser of the crimes people go through in these OCD judge's courtroom. But he or she still has the authority (if not the moral argument) to dictate such behavior bans. If he finds breastfeeding a distraction then so be it.
0 Replies
 
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:25 pm
@parados,
parados wrote:

Quote:
Or she could have just gotten a lawyer -- one of those non-breastfeeding lawyers, of course.


You must be referring to one of those blood-sucking ones.

That's so redundant a statement it's impossible to measure scientifically. Just like asking how big the universe is.

Aren't all lawyers blood suckers?
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:25 pm
@sozobe,
sozobe wrote:
She probably could have and should have contacted the court staff and explained the situation. Did she know she had that option? (I'm not sure it would spring to mind, for me, not having been in a courtroom situation.)

No doubt court hearings can be very intimidating for non-lawyers, and some judges make those hearings even more intimidating than they need to be, but this all happened in Paw Paw, Michigan, a town of 3,363 inhabitants and seat of Van Buren County, population 76,263. This isn't one of those massive courtrooms with hundreds of cases being called. There are four judges in the entire court. This is Mayberry we're talking about.
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:29 pm
@joefromchicago,
I get that, but my general reaction if called to court is "don't make waves, do what I'm told." I'd worry about being labeled a troublemaker if I ask for some sort of special dispensation, especially if I'd already missed a previous hearing.

I agree that would have been a better idea for her, but I don't think it's unrealistic that she just wouldn't know that's an option.

And from the judge's evident grumpiness, can you know that he wouldn't in fact be annoyed by the request for special dispensation?

Tsar, I agreed with that in my first post. His court, his rules. I just think that breastfeeding doesn't need to be any less neutral than hat-wearing, and if hat-wearing keeps a baby quiet and out of the ER, who cares? If for some reason wearing a hat had the same effect and the same reason as breastfeeding in this situation, I'd think the no-hat rule was equally stupid.
tsarstepan
 
  1  
Reply Fri 18 Nov, 2011 12:31 pm
@joefromchicago,

sozobe wrote:
She probably could have and should have contacted the court staff and explained the situation. Did she know she had that option? (I'm not sure it would spring to mind, for me, not having been in a courtroom situation.)

What is that judicial cliche? Ignorance of the law isn't an excuse for the law.

Plus I guarantee that whatever paperwork that she had received for all of the hearings had a phone number on it. She may just have held an arrogant mentality that this hearing is just for a boat ticket. So why bother being civil and responsible and plain old ignored the first hearing date.
 

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