Trial Begins for Grieving Father Jailed for Making Social Media Posts about Judge Who Took Away His Now-Deceased Son
Jonathan Vanderhagen, 35, faces charges of malicious use of a telecommunications device after exposing a judge on social media who took away his son, placed the child in his mother’s care, which ultimately resulted in the child’s untimely death. The trial officially began on Friday.
“Today’s trial is the limitless money, power, and privilege of the crown vs. Jonathan Vanderhagen and the 1st amendment. Your thoughts and prayers please,” Vanderhagen’s lawyer Nicholas Somberg wrote in a Facebook post before the trial started.
The prosecutors are arguing that Vanderhagen’s First Amendment rights are effectively null and void because family-court Judge Rachel Rancilio felt intimidated by his posts exposing her record. Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Rittinger is using the “fire in a crowded theater” trope to justify this constitutional infringement in court.
“I think all of this behavior, especially in its totality, and some of the specifics — like the shovel posting – on their own create this violation of the law,” Rittinger said. “You can speak freely, say all you want against the system … but when it comes to this level, you’ve crossed over into yelling ‘fire’ in a theater, and that’s not appropriate. It’s a violation of the law.”
Despite the fact that it was clear that Vanderhagen’s posts were referring to him digging up dirt about Rancilio’s record, Rittinger argued the context didn’t matter. A robed lawyer felt threatened, so Vanderhagen must pay for his illegal free speech.
“That’s possible, quite possible,” she said, referring to a meme Vanderhagen shared that featured a shovel with Rancilio’s name on it. “But there’s a threat in there as well, as perceived by the victim.”
Vanderhagen opted to refuse a plea deal from prosecutors that would have allowed him to walk out of court a free man if he accepted guilt for a charge of disturbing the peace. He is fighting back, as he and his legal counsel believe that his stand for constitutional rights is too important to abdicate.
“This case is about power and privilege,” Somberg said. “If someone was making these Facebook posts about you, they would laugh in your face. The only reason we’re here is because a judge with all the power and privilege in the world who can go send people to go arrest people.”
Vanderhagen’s attorney points to the overwhelming support that has coalesced behind his client in recent weeks, as the public rallies to the defense of a grieving father who has been wronged repeatedly by a corrupt justice system.
“The courtroom is packed full of supporters! Standing room only!” Somberg posted regarding the first day of the trial. “Thank you everyone for all your input on the case. There are some great points made that I am going to use! We are crowdsourcing this fight against tyranny!” he added in a subsequent Facebook post.
As Big League Politics reported last week, Vanderhagen was jailed and then held on half a million dollars bond for exposing what he feels were acts of government malfeasance that led to the death of his beloved 21-month-old son.
Jonathan Vanderhagen lost a custody battle for his son over two years ago, and his son died shortly after while in his mother’s custody. He had warned the court about the mother’s history of unstable behavior, but his pleas were ultimately ignored by the female judge and court referee…
A police report filed following the untimely death of two-year-old Killian cleared his mother from liability in his death, but the Vanderhagen family disagrees strongly with that assessment. They feel that if Killian was taken care of properly, he may be alive today…
Jonathan Vanderhagen was vocal about his anguish on social media, assigning blame toward Judge Rachel Rancilio for granting sole custody of Killian to his mother. As a result, Rancilio complained about her safety, and the Macomb County Sheriff’s office charged Jonathan with malicious use of telecommunications services as a result.
“Dada back to digging and you best believe I’m gonna dig up all the skeletons in this court’s closet,” Jonathan wrote in one social media post that is being used against him by prosecutors.
He refused to be muzzled despite the court infringing upon his 1st Amendment rights. He went back on social media and continued to raise public awareness about corruption the court following his arrest.
For refusing to be silenced, a judge determined that Jonathan Vanderhagen violated his bond conditions. He was placed in jail on an astronomical half a million dollars bond, more than what is recommended in for rapists and murderers in many cases.
The trial reconvenes on Tuesday, when Rancilio is expected to take the stand and continue testifying.