Macomb County dad acquitted of threatening judge online
A Chesterfield Township man was acquitted Thursday of charges in connection with perceived online threats against a Macomb County Circuit Court judge.
Grieving dad Jonathan Vanderhagen, 35, was acquitted following a trial before 41-B District Judge Sebastian Lucido in connection with social media posts that Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Rachel Rancilio found threatening.
Vanderhagen's lawyer said client was merely lashing out at the court system regarding a custody case involving his young son, who died two years ago in the custody of the boy's mother.
Vanderhagen had sought sole custody of his 2-year-old son, Killian.
It is not clear if Rancilio heard Vanderhagen's case when it was assigned to a family division of the Macomb County Circuit Court.
Vanderhagen, who lives in Chesterfield Township, was charged in July with misdemeanor use of telecommunications after the judge complained to the Macomb County Sheriff’s Office about posts on Vanderhagen’s Facebook page she considered threatening.
The case has received national attention and sparked debate about free speech and fathers' rights.
Vanderhagen’s supporters and friends flooded his Facebook page with praise Thursday following the verdict following the conclusion of the trial, which began last week.
“Today has been absolutely liberating. So proud of you Jonathan,” wrote Kristina Marie Jason. “You are the bravest person I know and the best father to Killian. Justice & the truth will always prevail!”
Stephanie Rae wrote, “Hopefully this helps out fathers in the future. Sometimes the dad is the better parent.”
Vanderhagen’s attorney Nicholas Somberg wrote on his client’s Facebook page “Not GUILTY* !!! I asked in my closing for a QUICK Not Guilty to send a message to the prosecutor that this was WRONG.”
Somberg said the jury deliberated for 26 minutes before finding his client not guilty.
During a hearing before Lucido in July, Somberg said the posts were not threats.
“These posts if you read them are about his son,” said Somberg, referring to a Facebook post about Vanderhagen posing with a shovel. “They’re about digging up the truth. There’s no threat. There’s no reaching out to Judge Rancilio. There’s been no contact.”
Somberg added during the pre-bond hearing “… I would make the argument that he can say F the Judge, F the President of the United States. I mean you have the right to say that stuff.”
Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith did not respond to a message seeking comment late Thursday afternoon.
Assistant Macomb County prosecutor Dan Debruin said during the pre-bond hearing that Vanderhagen posted a picture with a shovel with the initials RR and MD, which led to the initial charges against him.
"We feel (it) is a continued attempt to try to intimidate and harass and maliciously use a telecommunications device," said Debruin.
Lucido, who later set a $500,000 bond against Vanderhagen, said during the hearing: "There cannot be anything of a threatening nature. You can't yell fire in a public place or movie theater. We're talking about threatening a sitting Circuit Court Judge is the original allegation against Mr. Vanderhagen."