Oakland Co. vaccine case judge gets threats online

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News

Critics have made online threats against the Oakland County judge who is presiding over a case involving a parent who refuses to vaccinate her child.

A number of threats against Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Karen McDonald, including calls for her death, have been made on social media and other websites.

The Oakland County Sheriff's Office said it has investigated the threatening comments, which were made on various Facebook pages and blogs, and consulted with the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office. Officials determined none of the comments, which came from people as far away as California and Texas, break any laws. 

"We found none of them rise to the level where a crime has been committed," Undersheriff Mike McCabe said. "There's not a whole lot we can do at this point in time because there is no crime that's been committed."

To charge someone with a threat, he said, certain legal standards have to be met, and they haven't. Still, police continue to monitor for future threats against the judge, he said.

McCabe also said the sheriff's office won't comment on its security protocols at the courthouse in Pontiac, where McDonald works. However, he did say all of the deputies and security personnel who work there are aware of the situation and appropriate measures have been taken to make sure everyone in the court building remains safe.

McDonald, a judge in the court's Family Division, is handling a case involving a woman who refuses to obey a referee's order to vaccinate her 2-year-old daughter. In the case, Lori Matheson doesn't want her daughter to be vaccinated, but her ex-husband, Michael Schmitt, does. On Oct. 12, McDonald adjourned the hearing until Nov. 14.

The week before, McDonald sentenced Rebecca Bredow of Ferndale to seven days in jail for refusing to comply with a court order to vaccinate her 9-year-old son. McDonald also reduced Bedow’s custody rights.

The judge said the threats are obviously upsetting. 

"I really can't think of anyone who wouldn't be stressed or affected by receiving threats of physical harm or death," she said in a statement. "Of course it causes stress both for me, my family and staff, who didn't sign up for any of this."

However, she said she won't let the threats stop her from doing her job.

"At the end of the day, I'm going to do what I was elected to do and make decisions based on what is in the best interest of children," she said. "I'm going to do it after I listen to the facts and hear both sides."

"The fact that judges have to endure threats of physical violence via social media with virtually no protection or recourse is another matter and one that needs to be addressed," she said.