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Nursing Mom Sues After Made to Move to Bathroom at Courthouse–Deputy Wins Asshold of the Week Award

May 31, 2012
Cook County Sheriff's Office

Cook County Sheriff’s Office (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even though there are laws the protect nursing mothers, apparently those don’t apply in a courthouse, either in Illinois or Michigan.  In Illinois, the mother, thankfully is suing:

…a suburban Chicago mom says news of the Right to Breastfeed Act apparently hasn’t reached the Cook County Sheriff’s Department. On April 18, contends Natalie Petrovic in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, a sheriff’s deputy at the Municipal Courthouse in Skokie told her to breast-feed her 7-week-old daughter in a courthouse bathroom, even though the baby was covered with a blanket as Petrovic nursed her in a lobby area, the Chicago Sun-Timesreports.

“It got me really frustrated that this woman, she’s a sheriff’s [deputy] and she didn’t know what people’s rights are,” the 21-year-old told the newspaper on Wednesday evening, after filing her Cook County Circuit Court suit against the county and Sheriff Tom Dart.

It seeks an injunction requiring the defendants to comply with the law and attorney’s fees.

Any public courthouse officials that unlawfully deny women their legally-protected right to breastfeed in public automatically win the Asshole of the Week Award.  Congrats Sheriff Tom Dart and complicit Deputy–you have won the Asshole of the Week Award for denying a nursing mom her legal rights.

I wish that the woman in Michigan would sue.  The judge in Paw Paw, MI told the nursing mother that in his courtroom, he effectively makes the laws:

A woman fighting a Michigan boating ticket that had already resulted in a bench warrant says she had no choice but to take her 5-month-old with her to a Tuesday hearing as he recuperated from a fever.

Quiet for more than two hours as she waited for her case to be called, the boy then awakened and needed to eat. So, since she was wearing appropriate clothing for the purpose, she breastfed him, Natalie Hegedus tells WWMT.

This didn’t go over well with the judge, when Hegedus’ case was called while her son, Landen, was still eating.

“You think that’s appropriate in here?” Judge Robert Hentchel asked her, according to a transcript of the 7th District Court case in Paw Paw.

Hegedus replied that she had to feed her son, and it was legal to do so.

“Ma’am, it’s my courtroom, I decide what’s appropriate in here, come on up, okay,” Hentchel then tells her. “You have to understand that a judge, the laws don’t apply in a courtroom, the judge’s law applies, do you understand that?”

Mothers who were angry about Hegedus’ treatment planned a nurse-in. The really disturbing part of the Michigan story came about after the chief justice said that a courtroom deserves more “reverence” than breastfeeding can provide, and so the judge was somehow completely within his rights to create a law unto himself:

But the chief judge with the 63rd District Court, Sara Smolenski, told 24 Hour News 8 the rules in court are different.

“That particular judge at that particular moment, depending on what kind of case was involved, maybe thought that wasn’t appropriate right then,” she said.

A judge has to think of the whole story, who is in the courtroom, what’s going on at the time, and if it will disrupt the proceedings.  Just because something is legal — like talking on a cellphone — doesn’t mean it’s appropriate in a court.

“There’s just more reverence,” Smolenski said.  Pointing out that the rules of etiquette would be different in a courtroom than in a bus station or restaurant.  “It’s not that we’re special or that we’re better. It’s just a level of respect.”

Breastfeeding done responsibly shouldn’t be a problem, she said, but added, “Even though breastfeeding is the most natural, nurturing form of a mother feeding her child that God created, you still don’t want to have it in your face.”

Contrary to what many judges believe, there is no separate set of laws for judges in a courtroom.

On second thought, Sheriff Tom Dart, you get to share the Asshole of the Week Award with “Chief Justice” Sara Smolenski for using a patriarchal structure to belittle breastfeeding as “not reverent enough” for a judge.  What an asshole, that Sara Smolenski.  Too bad for us in Michigan that she and Robert Hentchel happen to be judges.  This may be the one and only time I am happy judges are elected here in Michigan.

Two Michigan laws that would protect nursing as a civil right:

Senate Bill: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2011-SIB-0554.pdf

House Bill: http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2011-2012/billintroduced/House/pdf/2011-HIB-4868.pdf

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