Free Speech

A Michigan Man Has Been Acquitted by a Jury for Criticizing a County Judge on Facebook

It took a jury 26 minutes to decide that Jonathan Vanderhagen wasn't guilty.

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According to Jonathan Vanderhagen's lawyer, it took a jury all of 26 minutes and 8 seconds to decide that he was not guilty of using his Facebook account to threaten a county judge. Reason previously covered the Michigan father's free speech case, which began with a custody battle two years ago.

In 2017, Vanderhagen petitioned the court for sole custody over his 2-year-old son, Killian. Vanderhagen believed Killian's mother to be an unfit guardian. Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Rachel Rancilio, the presiding judge, denied the request and Killian was permitted to continue living with his mother. Killian passed away that September while in his mother's care.

Authorities concluded that a preexisting medical condition contributed to Killian's death. Vanderhagen, however, blamed Rancilio's custody ruling for contributing to his son's death, which he believes would not have happened had Killian been in his care. He used his Facebook page to say as much. For two years, he posted about Killian's mother, the court system, and Rancilio—at times using Rancilio's own public Facebook posts and Pinterest pins to criticize her ruling.

Rancilio was made aware of the posts and an investigation was opened against Vanderhagen. "At no point does [Vanderhagen] threaten harm or violence towards Rancilio," Sgt. Jason Conklin of the Macomb County Sheriff's Office, the investigating officer, concluded in his case report.

Nevertheless, Vanderhagen was charged with the malicious use of telecommunication services, a misdemeanor, in July. "Malicious use" means that Vanderhagen was accused of using a telecommunication service with the intention of terrorizing, intimidating, threatening, or harassing Rancilio. Vanderhagen was ordered to refrain from engaging in direct or third-party contact with Rancilio, including sending "inadvertent messages by way of Facebook."

Prosecutors and presiding District Judge Sebastian Lucido used the following post to accuse Vanderhagen of violating his bond conditions later that month.

The Facebook post features Vanderhagen holding a shovel with the initials R.R., standing for Rachel Rancilio. The post's caption read, "Dada back to digging [and] you best believe [I'm] gonna dig up all the skeletons in this court's closet."

In addition to the Facebook post not being threatening, Nicholas Somberg, Vanderhagen's lawyer, told me that the post was created three days before Vanderhagen received his bond conditions.

Somberg also argued in an emergency bond hearing that Vanderhagen had a First Amendment right to criticize legal authorities. Judge Lucido replied that there were "limits" to free speech. When Somberg asked Lucido to clarify which of the Facebook posts presented to the court were threatening, Lucido said that they 'alluded' to the judge and did not explain his reasoning any further. 

Lucido raised Vanderhagen's bond to $500,000, an amount Somberg told Reason was tantamount to a bond "you would expect for a murderer or rapist."

A jury acquitted Vanderhagen on Thursday of the charge.

Somberg told me that he was "so happy" that justice was served for both Vanderhagen and his son. He used a portion of his closing argument, which was provided to Reason, to remind the jury that the case was first and foremost about Vanderhagen's First Amendment right to free speech:

Our [Founding Fathers] guaranteed us the right to a Jury Trial for situations just like this. That the founders understood absolute power corrupts absolutely and that we should be judged by a jury of our peers, not the government. You all should feel lucky to be sitting for such an important trial. The verdict that you come back with will send one of two very different messages to the people of Macomb County. We either have the right to free speech, or if the people of Macomb criticize our elected officials they better watch out.

Vanderhagen also provided a statemen saying that he was "beyond thankful" to be a free man. He also thanked Somberg for his work on the case.

"The past [two] months have been incredibly hard but it was a journey [I] was willing to take to be the voice my son needed it most," he said. "Hearing of everyone's support while [I] was locked up is what kept me going [and] most importantly kept Killian's spirit alive, [I] know he is smiling down proud [and] feeling like the most special boy in the world."

The original Reason report can be read here.

NEXT: Cops Accused of Stealing Over $225,000 Can't Be Sued, Thanks to Qualified Immunity

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80 responses to “A Michigan Man Has Been Acquitted by a Jury for Criticizing a County Judge on Facebook

  1. Rancilio is going to pay his legal fees, right? RIGHT?!?! Out of personal pocket?

    (OK, I am dreaming).

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  2. Good on this jury. When are the disbarment procedures taking place?

    1. When all politicians have told nothing but the truth for a period exceeding 2 years – – – –

      1. Politicians generally can’t imprison people like corrupt judges.

  3. well done, Macomb County.

  4. Another example of why not to duck jury duty.

  5. Judge “Rancilio”?

    I mean, c’mon, we’re only human. You can’t make someone called “Rancilio” a public official and not expect some highjinks!

  6. Michigan voters need to give two of their judges the Aaron Persky treatment and the sooner the better.

  7. In unrelated news there was a mass arrest in Michigan of around a dozen people who were found to be disturbing the peace and defiant trespass. News at 11.

  8. I see Mr. Vanderhagen has benefited mightily from his white privilege.

  9. The jury was then held in contempt of court.

  10. That guy sounds like a kook.

    Hey! Did you hear the one today about how Dump asked the leader of a foreign power to help him dig up dirt on a political rival. What a foodie of a story!

    1. Still terrible.

    2. Did you hear the one about someone inventing bullshit in the Reason comment section?

      1. Yeah, I heard that years and years ago.
        And every day since.

    3. “…Dump…”

      How much of their limited mental capacity is spent by ‘tards dreaming up nick-names which would embarrass grammar-school kids?
      Judging by what goes before and afterwards, I’m saying ‘way more than half.

      1. How would you prefer me to refer to this liar and douche sexual predator?

        1. With actual satire rather than outright libel?

        2. We would prefer you remain silent. You’re not clever, and you have nothing to contribute.

        3. Let’s look at liberal sexual predators.

          Anthony Weiner
          Al Franken (Democratic Senator Minnesota)
          Joe Biden (Democratic VP
          Harvey Weinstein
          Bill Clinton
          Elliot Spitzer (Democratic Governor NY)
          Senator Daniel Inouye. (House Democrat Hawaii)
          Barney Frank (House Democrat)
          Ted Kennedy ( (Senator Mass)
          AG Eric Schneiderman (NY)
          Jeffery Epstein financier for democratic politicians with special island for Bill Clinton

          If you want can the first stone then plan on getting wet

        4. Let’s look at liberal sexual predators.
          Anthony Weiner
          Al Franken (Democratic Senator Minnesota)
          Joe Biden (Democratic VP
          Harvey Weinstein
          Bill Clinton
          Elliot Spitzer (Democratic Governor NY)
          Senator Daniel Inouye. (House Democrat Hawaii)
          Barney Frank (House Democrat)
          Ted Kennedy ( (Senator Mass)
          AG Eric Schneiderman (NY)
          Jeffery Epstein financier for democratic politicians with special island for Bill Clinton
          If you want to cast the first stone then plan on getting wet
          Reply

    4. Everything is about trump. Absolutely everything. You must never deviate from this mindset. Stay obsessed. Don’t change a thing.

      Haha.

  11. Justice has not been done until both judges are in prison for violation of the first amendment.

    1. Not to mention the persecutor who thought taking this trial and a $500k bond for a misdemeanor was a good idea.

      1. I would definitely be suing them for any possible tort allowed for malicious prosecution. That bail request is a definite red flag.

  12. How in the world did this charge not get dismissed pretrial?

    1. Professional courtesy between judges?

      1. Shared incompetence between two judges and the prosecutor.

        1. Absolutely no chance that this was in confidence.

          When you set a bond at a half a million dollars over a misdemeanor, it is not incompetence. They were making sure that this guy got punished. Even if they couldn’t toss them in jail, they were going to break him through the process.

          No doubt this whole thing cost this guy the better part of a hundred grand.

          1. +100

            Exactly. It was government bureaucrats trying to punish and show who is boss.

            The judge is a vindictive cunt and deserves to be disbarred.

            1. Cunts have depth and warmth. Judge Rancidcrotch has neither.

    2. Because when you get right down to it, the real charge was Lese Majesty.

  13. The still open question I have, is what was the ‘preexisting medical condition’ that his child had?
    I would like to also make an assessment of whether this judge’s decision really did contribute to the death of the little child.

    1. That was my first question, but medical privacy means reporters won’t be able to answer it. I’m not sure, but most likely only the custodial parent could release the medical records.

    2. The information is out there. This man’s child had a minor form of hydrocephalus. It’s going to shorten your life, but not to two years old.

      The ‘mother’ has already had two kids taken away, one because they were addicted to opoids at birth. In this case, it seems she went a bit too far with the Munchasens by proxy, and has been allowed to get away with it entirely.
      https://kiwifarms.net/threads/judge-jails-father-for-blaming-her-for-sons-death.60563/post-5297772

  14. Just a note for David Welker, who objected when I drew attention to the highly-professional quality of the picture illustrating the first article. Put that one on your screen alongside the picture used to illustrate this article, and you should be able to see the contrast I was talking about.

    1. Yeah, that is really high-quality graphic arts design.

  15. And yet some people want MORE GOVERNMENT.

  16. 26 Minutes?
    Either the donuts were especially fresh, or the foreman selection took 24 minutes.

    1. In addition to the time needed to select the foreman, there’s paperwork they have to fill out before going back to the judge. It takes about half an hour even when the decision is obvious.

  17. Rancilio. Guess which finger I’m holding up?

    That she did this to a grieving man makes me want to believe in karma even harder.

  18. The folly of electing snowflakes into a position empowering the ordering of men with guns to use potentially deadly coercive force for failure to grovel is the take-away from this tragicomedy.

  19. This case had First Amendment written all over it.
    Both the judge in question and the DA that brought the charges should be removed from office and disbarred.

    1. Absolute immunity, FTW!

      1. Rule 308 FTW!

        1. Translation for those who don’t get it: croaker is saying the judge should be shot.

          1. And possibly into a woodchipper. Oh wait, we’re not supposed to say anything about judges and woodchippers here.

  20. Well, at least he got his due punishment process.

    1. Yep!

      They didn’t explicitly say it, but if this follows what I have been told is the industry standard, he had to post fifty Grand to get that half million dollar Bond. And that 50 Grand isn’t refundable.

      So that alone is more than an order of magnitude more than any fine could have been. The judge you ordered that Bond should be run out of town on a rail

      1. He didn’t pay the bond. He spent two months in jail waiting for his day in court. Several someones need to swing over this.

        1. Instead it is commendations all around.

          These people are absolutely contemptible.

  21. I love the juxtaposition of this case with the case from the 9th circuit.

    In this case, the judge rules that criticizing a judge is so dangerous that you have to post a half a million dollar Bond.

    And in the 9th circuit they ruled that there is no 4th Amendment prohibition against stealing a quarter of a million dollars while executing a search warrant. Because no reasonable police officer would know that it was illegal for him to steal the quarter million dollars.

    Sometimes I think I am being punked.

    1. “And in the 9th circuit they ruled that there is no 4th Amendment prohibition against stealing a quarter of a million dollars while executing a search warrant.”

      No, that’s not what they ruled. They ruled that the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity because it is not clearly established that stealing money seized pursuant to a valid warrant is a Fourth Amendment violation as well as ordinary theft. They did not rule that stealing money seized pursuant to a valid warrant is not a Fourth Amendment violation.

  22. “…Nevertheless, Vanderhagen was charged with the malicious use of telecommunication services, a misdemeanor,…”

    I wish this guy no further grief, but it’s a shame this didn’t go to the SCOTUS to get the law tossed under A1.

  23. “… Lucido said that they ‘alluded’ to the judge and did not explain his reasoning any further….”

    And why is THIS judge still seated?

    1. Professional courtesy.

      If some other judge or government agency kicks her off the bench, then THEY could be kicked off the bench.

      IT WOULD BE ANARCHY!!!

      1. OK, so where’s the downside?

    2. Hi! How was Dump’s California GOP Party. Can you tell me what secret bunker you Republicans meet in so I can show up next time? I love partying with cranky geezers.

      It’s a shame the President can’t show his face in San Francisco without a battalion of security guards. Obama could show up in public in San Francisco and get a hundred thousand people chanting his name. If Dump showed up they’d probably spend the next month cleaning up the rubble. I mean, i’m A commie anarchist and all, but I guess it’s Better that you guys meet in some fucking GOP bat cave.

      1. That would be a great reason for Trump to visit. If any city deserves to be nuked outside of DC, it’s San Francisco.

      2. Haha. Obsessed. Pathetic. Don’t change a thing.

  24. Regardless of the verdict, there is nothing preventing Vanderhagen from being charged again, should he make another criticism.

    1. Doing so would almost guarantee federal intervention.

      1. Don’t be ridiculous. Of course it wouldn’t.

  25. Good outcome, but it will be complete only when the judge pays court costs and loses his position on the bench.

    1. In no way is this outcome “good”.

      I would count this as “less than a total disaster”. They absolutely railroaded this guy over something that any 1st year law student knows is 100% protected speech.

      But because everything was done by prosecutors and judges, they are absolutely immune from any consequence.

      Nice job, court system!

      1. But at least the jury told them to pound sand.

  26. Regarding the defense attorney’s statement:

    “You all should feel lucky to be sitting for such an important trial. The verdict that you come back with will send one of two very different messages to the people of Macomb County. We either have the right to free speech, or if the people of Macomb criticize our elected officials they better watch out.”

    In either case the message to the people is that they better watch out.

    Despite the acquittal, the plaintiff remains a victor in the sense that they can continue to drag other innocent people through the same grueling court process without any apparent risk of repercussions.

  27. It’s a shame the President can’t show his face in San Francisco without a battalion of security guards. Obama could show up in public in San Francisco and get a hundred thousand people chanting his name.

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  28. The judge is very unprofessional and apparently doesn’t understand law very well. The law violates his freedom of speech in the regard that as any judge should know, any threat, harassment or maliciousness can be simply ignored by not reading the posts. In other words, there was no immediate threat or harm. so therefore there is no exception in this case to the Freedom of Speech. Another issue with the judge is her professional standing which states that she should by law have a higher resistance to any “maliciousness.” It would take a lot more in this case to pass the standards than an ordinary citizen. While the man was found innocent, he still had to suffer through stress and probably spend time in jail even though he was clearly innocent from the get go, and this abuse of power from the judge is fairly common and should have consequences.

  29. Now it is time to recall the judge, or maybe both judges. That will truly “send a message”.

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  33. Two words: Vladek Filler.

    The Vladek Filler case demonstrated once and for all that American men should not suffer simply because they are men. Filler sued and recovered $2 Million. But the best of Filler’s tenacity stripped away the façade of the prosecutor, Mary Kellett, and exposed her to accountability. He law license was suspended and she’s no longer a prosecutor.

    Thus, Jonathan Vanderhagen, has the right -and duty- to sue, if not just to rip away the façade of legitimacy and expose the lawlessness of three judges and the DA. And yes, I know you cannot sue them personally but you can tag their little kingdoms. Vladek did it in Maine; Jonathan should do it in Michigan.

  34. “I think that they saw through this case. I think what they saw the prosecution do to this man was wrong,” https://pinoynetworktambayan.su/ said Vanderhagen’s attorney, Nicholas Somberg. “And I asked in my closing to send a message and to not just come back not guilty, but to come back with a quick not guilty so the prosecutor would know that what they did to this man was wrong.”

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