The Judicial Persecution Of Jonathan Vanderhagen

It began when Jonathan Vanderhagen petitioned Macomb County (Michigan) Circuit Court Judge Rachel Rancilio for sole custody of his 2-year-old son, Killian, arguing that Killian’s biological mother was unfit to be his son’s  guardian. Judge Rancilio disagreed and the child’s mother retained custody. Not long after the decision,  Killian was dead. Since his son’s death in 2017, Vanderhagen has harshly criticized the Rancilio’s custody ruling on Facebook. 

As a result, he was arrested and charged with a malicious use of telecommunication services , which includes using a telecommunication service with the intention of terrorizing, intimidating, threatening, or harassing someone, in this case, the judge. From Reason:

The case report filled out by Sgt. Jason Conklin of the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office notes that Rancilio was made aware of Vanderhagen’s posts, several of which included screenshots of her own Facebook page and pins on Pinterest. The screenshots are accompanied by captions promising to expose the corruption of the court system and calling Rancilio and Mary Duross, a 14-year veteran Friend of the Court who was involved in the custody case, “shady.”  “At no point does [Vanderhagen] threaten harm or violence towards Rancilio or Duross,” Conklin wrote in the case report.

Apparently some of the “threat” claim comes from the meme above and others like it that Vanderhagen—talented!—has created and posted on Facebook. That shovel! Scary! The caption says, “Dada back to digging [and] you best believe [I’m] gonna dig up all the skeletons in this court’s closet.” “I won’t stop till changes are made, people are held accountable, careers are ended, & these kids get the justice they deserve,” he wrote in another one of his “threatening” Facebook posts.

What’s going on here?

I don’t think its a tough question: what’s going on is a concerted effort  by some Michigan judges of dubious skills and character to take vengeance on a citizen who hasn’t been willing to grovel at the the feet of the Robed Ones. Judges are like that all too often, but this is an unusually ugly example that begs for a serious reckoning with Lady Justice—for the judges. Continue reading

Ethics Quiz (And Poll): The Cop And The KKK Application

Either our nation is committed to the principles of freedom of thought, speech, expression and association,  or it is not.

With that preface, here is the kind of gray area, bizarre fact pattern controversy that puts ethical analysis to the test.

In the Muskegon County (Michigan) town of Holton, African-American  Rob Mathias, accompanied by his wife and children, was walking through the home of Charles Anderson, a local police officer, with the intent of possibly purchasing it.  Then he saw a framed Klu Klux Klan application hanging on a wall, as well as several Confederate flags. He and his family immediately left the property.

Later he posted a photograph of the KKK application on Facebook, (above) explaining later that he felt it was something the public had a right to know about, especially if the officer had a history of questionable interactions with African Americans.  Mathias wrote that Anderson “was one of the most racist people” in the community and “hiding behind his uniform.” The post was also personal and threatening, concluding with “I know who you are and will be looking for resources to expose your prejudice.”

The Facebook post triggered an internal investigation of Anderson, and he was placed on administrative leave. “We do take this sort of issue, seriously, and we are working hard to understand if/how this may impact his ability to safely and fairly police our community,” Muskegon City Manager Frank Peterson reporters. Muskegon County NAACP President Eric Hood piled on, saying, “We want a thorough investigation to be sure that when he goes out there and puts on that uniform and performs his duties as an officer that he’s being fair and impartial.”

“I’m still disgusted by it. I’m hurt,” said Mathias “You can’t serve your community and be a racist. You can’t. There are people of all different colors, of all different nationalities … out there that you have to serve and protect. You can’t just protect one group of people.”

 Rachel Anderson, the officer’s wife, told reporters that her husband is not and never was a KKK member. She said he was a collector, and called the uproar a misunderstanding.

Mathias’ wife said in rebuttal,

“I like antiques, but I collect things that I represent. You can go in my basement, we have Detroit Lions, Red Wings, Michigan stuff, everything we associate ourselves with.So why would you collect something you don’t associate with yourself?” 

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Has this situation been handled fairly, responsibly and ethically? Continue reading

Ethics Dunce And Incompetent Elected Official Of The Month (Yes, Even More Than Virginia’s Gov. Northam!): Dearborn, Michigan Mayor Jack O’Reilly

Henry Ford was an important industrialist, innovator and inventor, and a towering figure in automotive history. Nobody, however, mistook him for nice guy. In addition to many ruthless tendencies, Ford was well documented anti-Semite, even by the ugly standards of his time, when that particular form of bigotry was generally considered reasonable. However, when the city-funded Dearborn Historian included a article documenting Henry Ford’s anti-Semitism, the city’s mayor, Jack O’Reilly, killed the issue, ordering the museum that produces the magazine not to mail it out.

Dearborn is where Ford was born, where his estate is, and where he built his flagship motorcar factory. For some reason that apparently means to O’Reilly that the folks who live there should know less about their town’s most famous and accomplished resident that everyone else. Ford’s hatred of Jews is, after all, hardly news: he was open about it when he was alive; there are books about it; and his family has been trying to live down the shame of that part of his legacy for decades.

Oh, never mind all that: the false lesson being pushed on our society in recent years is that inconvenient history disappears if you erase the record of it. This is the message of all the screeching and crunching metal sounds from The Confederate Statuary Ethics Train Wreck, and all the other attempts to airbrush the bad stuff from industrial, local, national and personal histories. O’Reilly is a true believer that Henry Ford’s not-exactly-good name will be cleansed by making sure as few citizens as possible know what a creep he was when he wasn’t revolutionizing American industry and changing lives of Americans for the better. He is, in other words, a censorious fool. Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Warm-Up, 11/4/2018 (Part II): Halloween Leftovers, Hot Yoga, And Polls

Today’s extended Warm-Up continues…

5. Halloween ethics left-overs:

  • Nah, there’s no Trump Derangement…In Hastings, Michigan, young Benny Drake wore a Donald Trump mask and costume around the neighborhood to solicit candy. At one house, the woman who answered the door threw candy at him and “asked me if she could slap me,” Drake said.

Benny should build a wall around her house.

  • Confession: I once wore a KKK-themed costume to a party. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, a Ku Klux Klan costume won a Halloween contest and a prize at the Lil’ Dude Tavern. After the photo of the costume “went viral,” the bar was attacked on social media and condemned by the local NAACP. A few points:

a) Many of the news media reports discussed the costume but wouldn’t share the photo with readers or TV viewers, presumably out of fear of upsetting some of them. This is incompetent and cowardly journalism, in the same category as writing about the Danish anti-Muhammad cartoons without showing them, or writing that an “epithet” set off a controversy without stating what the epithet was.

b) I assume the ethics issues here are the same as in the Hitler costume controversy, correct?

c) When I wore a KKK-themed costume decades ago, it was after a prominent white supremacist had been killed in a plane crash. KKK costumes always looked a lot like ghosts to me,  so I made a hybrid ghost-KKK costume and carried a travel case with the victim’s name on it and the airline’s sticker.  And I won a prize, too: for Costume in the Worst Taste.

  • I don’t understand this one at ALL.  In Vermont, a trick-or-treater received a bag of poop deposited in his candy bag. According to police, who investigated, it was just a mistake. How could something like that be a mistake? If the bag contained rat poison or an “explosive device,” would “Oops! Silly me!” still be an effective explanation? What if the kid ate the poop, and got violently ill? Same result?

Continue reading

Rewarding Violence And Vigilante Justice: The Unethical Glorification of Randall Margraves

That’s Margraves on the left, with Nassar, his target, cowering in red…

During the sentencing hearing for sexual predator Larry Nasser in an Eaton County, Michigan courtroom, Randall Margraves, the father of three daughters who were all molested by the former USA Women’s Gymnastics doctor, shouted “You son of a bitch!” and rushed Nassar.  He was tackled and placed in handcuffs. Before the attack, Margraves asked Judge Janice Cunningham to grant him “five minutes in a locked room with this demon. Yes or no.”  Perhaps he thought she was Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who might have granted his request based on her words at his previous sentencing hearing. Cunningham, however, refused the request.

After the father’s attempt to take the law into his own hands, Michigan Assistant Attorney General Angela Povilaitis told the stunned courtroom, “We cannot behave like this. This is letting him have his power over us….You cannot do this. I understand Mr. Margraves’ frustration, but you cannot do this. Use your words, use your experiences. Do not use physical violence.” Judge Cunningham added,

“We cannot react by using physical violence and assault against someone who has performed criminal acts. What Mr. Nassar did is horrible. It’s unthinkable, but please let the criminal justice system do what it is supposed to do and issue the punishment he should get.”

Nonetheless, no charges were filed against Margraves. Wrong.  This is irresponsible and hypocritical, as well as cowardly. (We know any punishment will be unpopular with the “Think of the children!” and the “What if it was your daughters?” crowds as well as the “Punch Nazis in the face”  constituency) If the message really is that a society can’t give in to vigilante justice and let citizens employ physical violence as extra-legal means to exact vengeance against criminals, then those who behave this way must be punished.  If they are not, then the opposite message is sent: “Well, when someone is really bad, and hurts someone you really care about, we sympathize. We understand how you feel.” What if Margraves had reached Nassar and delivered a punch to his face, fracturing his jaw? Or ripped his lips off? That he didn’t was just moral luck. Would the father have been charged then, as millions around the nation shut down their ethics alarms and cheered?

For the justice system to remains coherent and maintain integrity, the father had to be charged. Continue reading

The Unethical Sentencing Of Dr. Lawrence Nassar

Non-lawyers and journalists mostly cheered Ingham County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina’s grandstanding, self-indulgent, unprofessional and unethical handling of Dr. Larry Nassars’s sentencing yesterday. Nobody bothered to seek the opinion of criminal lawyers and judges, much less ethicists. If they had, they would have heard a loud, collective, “Ugh.”

It was a disgrace. I object to victim impact statements in sentencing, a terrible idea pushed by victim’s rights advocates, because it misrepresents the purpose of the justice system. The objective is to punish citizens for violating laws, not to get revenge for victims or their families, not to get “closure,” and not to satisfy emotional needs. The process isn’t personal, or shouldn’t be. If it is personal, then it isn’t objective. Judge Aquila threw all of that out the window as she played to the cameras and the mob.

Criminal defense lawyer and blogger Scott Greenfield aptly explained what was unethical about the parade of victims:

Nassar’s sentencing hearing is a clear example of a judge straying from promoting the public’s trust in a fair and impartial judiciary. Let’s begin with Judge Aquilina’s decision allowing over one hundred and sixty victim impact statements across seven days. 

Victim impact statements are theoretically allowed as a means of giving a crime victim the chance to describe their experience to the court. Defense lawyers aren’t typically fans of them, and too many can arguably have a prejudicial effect against a defendant.

Contrast Nasssar’s hearing with that of Dylann Roof, the Charleston shooter responsible for the deaths of nine churchgoers. Judge Richard Gergel admonished the State’s list of thirty-eight statements, cautioning against a “spectacle”. David Bruck, the attorney assigned to advise Roof, claimed the proceeding violated “every principle restraining victim impact statements under the 8th Amendment.”

Strangely, no advocate stood to question admitting impact statements from over 160 victims, including gold medal Olympians, might prejudice a jurist’s decision. It’s hard to imagine Judge Aquilina even entertaining such an argument.

It is also hard to imagine Nassar’s sleepwalking defense attorney making such an objection. She was praised by the judge for taking on an unpopular client, but taking him on isn’t enough. She was supposed to protect his rights.

Then the judge delivered her sentence, turning her moment in the national spotlight into a self-aggrandizing, virtue-signalling, vainglorious soliloquy to the gallery. This was one more example of why televised court proceedings are a bad idea.

I’m going to give you the whole transcript of her remarks, bolding the sections before my comments. Cut to the bolded sections if you don’t care to experience the full measure of Judge Aquilina’s narcissism. One section,, however, was left out of all the published versions that I could find:

“Our Constitution does not allow for cruel and unusual punishment. If it did, I have to say, I might allow what he did to all of these beautiful souls—these young women in their childhood—I would allow someone or many people to do to him what he did to others.”

The judge apparently had this excised from the official transcript. No wonder. She is advocating prison rape and by doing so, endorsing it. Michigan’s judicial ethics standards require in part,

“A judge should respect and observe the law. At all times, the conduct and manner of a judge should promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Without regard to a person’s race, gender, or other protected personal characteristic, a judge should treat every person fairly, with courtesy and respect.”

Needless to say—I hope—‘I wish I could have you gang raped’ does not meet this standard. It is also troubling that a judge would distort the record. She said what she said, and the public should know she is the kind of jurist would say something like that—an unethical one. The state’s judicial panel should also know.

Here is the rest: Continue reading

The Diggy Fiasco : Pit Bull Bigotry Madness With A Happy Ending. THIS Time.

My post of two years ago about the horrible anti-pit bull website dogsbite.org continues to attract comments from dog breed bigots who have either been deceived by dogsbite, or who go there to confirm their own ignorance. What is remarkable about these posts is that they are almost identical. They repeat the same falsehoods and the same debunked arguments, as if every one of their points hadn’t been thoroughly discredited by experts, dog breeders, researchers, and rational sites like Ethics Alarms. Pit bull hysterics simply will not yield to reality, and they don’t appear to care how many families their disinformation harms and how many loving dogs they kill with the “dangerous breed” legislation they extract from lazy lawmakers.

Here is a recent story showing  how deranged these laws are, their cruelty, and the kind of scenarios dogsbite.org and its fans encourage.

In June 2016, Waterford Township, Michigan, resident Dan Tillery and his girlfriend Megan  purchased their first home. The couple wanted to adopt a dog, and eventually found Sir Wiggleton, a big, white, happy canine nearing the end of his stay at a shelter after 100 days. Dan posted a photo of him with his new companions, with the caption,   “We know this photo is going to break the internet and we apologize, but we had to share…Sir Wiggleton and his new Dad are celebrating adoption day with huge smiles all around!”

Damned if the photo almost did “break the internet.”  But the viral picture of Sir Wiggleton, now renamed “Diggy,” inspired nightmares in some local pit bull phobic, so he or she reported Dan, Megan, and Diggy to the police.

The officers knocked on the door and informed Dan that he had violated Waterford’s ban on owning pit bulls. According to the township, pit bulls and pit bull mixes are considered to be “dangerous dogs.” Obviously Digby was a killer…

This possessing a vicious canine like Digby…

was a punishable crime. The dog police told Dana and Megan that Diggy would have to be returned to the Detroit Dog Rescue or else there would be consequences, even though Diggy’s adoption papers stated that he was an American bulldog. Continue reading