Breastfeeding law reaches everywhere except the courtroom

By Legal Eagle

Via @simonwstockdale, I’ve become aware of the following case in Michigan, where a woman was chastised for breastfeeding in court:

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?”

Hegedus tells the station she wouldn’t have minded if the issue had been handled more discretely, but she felt publicly humiliated by the judge’s tone and the implication that she had done something “dirty” by nursing her baby.

Chief Judge Paul Hamre said he felt Hentchel had done nothing wrong, WwMT reports, calling it “inappropriate” for a defendant to appear in a criminal court holding a baby and noting that Hentchel nonetheless hadn’t sanctioned Hegedus or even asked her to leave the courtroom.

I had to go to VCAT when my daughter was four months old, and one of my fears was that my daughter would require feeding while our matter was on. Fortunately our matter came on before the next feed was due.

If the poor woman was waiting for over two hours with her infant son, then it’s understandable that her child might want to feed, and it sounds like she was discreet. And if breastfeeding is legal anywhere in the state, then you can do it in a courtroom. The court can’t be above the law (surely that’s part of the point of the system). One response to the judge in this case might be to hand him the baby and say, “I’m happy not to feed him, but you explain to him he can’t have his food!”

For goodness sakes’, we’re mammals. Get over that fact, Your Honour.

29 Comments

  1. Posted November 16, 2011 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    Judge was perfectly reasonable. Why didn’t she just leave it with the nanny or the au paire?

    And as you note, it isn’t exactly her fault she had to wait around. Courts are like waiting for buses that sometimes will not stop, and sometimes they stop, the driver gets out and thwacks you, and gets back in and drives off. Speaking as a lawyer, let alone a poor mumma!

  2. Adrien
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    You have to understand that a judge, the laws don’t apply in a courtroom, the judge’s law applies, do you understand that?

    Does Hentchel feel entitled to order summary executions if someone should displease him?

  3. Adrien
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Judge was perfectly reasonable.

    No he wasn’t get over it. Breasfeeding happens in public, it’s discreet and causes very little disconcertion. Big deal! The little fascist dictators need to eat what can you do?

    And anyway the way he does it shows maximum disrespect for her dignity. Why embarrass a woman for breast-feeding!? If he really can’t hack the actual function of boobs he could send someone over to quietly have a word, yes?

  4. Posted November 16, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Adrien. Read it again. Read for tone and irony. At least, if it isn’t obvious, allow for it. Perhaps read the first paragraph in the context of the second…

    Pax.

  5. Mel
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Adrien, you dim bonehead, armagny was being sarcastic.

    The judge is a pig and deserves a bloody good horsewhipping, IMO.

  6. kvd
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Well, I’m pleased to see the judge nip this in the bud. If she’d bought a highchair and a bowl of Farex (is that still a product?) could the judge not object? I mean where will it all end? Next you’ll get women cutting their hair without their husband’s permission.

    Now I’m off to catch some sparrows for the next local market day. I’ve been given a great idea.. 😉

    /irony (just in case)

  7. David Jackmanson
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    “You have to understand that a judge, the laws don’t apply in a courtroom, the judge’s law applies, do you understand that?”

    Is this true, in theory? Can the whim/discretion of a judge in his own court over-rule say, a law that makes breastfeeding legal in all public places?

    Apparently Michigan doesn’t have an affirmative committment to breastfeeding in statute law; it merely exempts breastfeeding from public indecency laws – maybe that gives the judge some room to move, he can’t charge the woman with indecent behaviour but he can still say it’s unacceptable in his court

    http://www.ncsl.org/default.aspx?tabid=14389

  8. Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for judges giving people a good serve for low hanging pants or blowing gum. Seriously. Problem here is that, both logically and objectively (approaches judges still tend to believe in), the function of a Court is not some optional excursion for most people, it isn’t wandering into a posh nosh restaurant or wedding, she is there to have one of the three pillars of power appropriately exercised. She probably doesn’t constructively have any choice in the matter. And, as my /sarky comment was directed to, if there isn’t some high quality nannying service available to her, and if her listing times are the usual, highly unpredictable estimates, then she really might not have any choice. Some simpleton whose wife has always wiped his bottom shouldn’t pass irrational – let alone the more emotive politics of breastfeeding with which I tend to agree – judgment. She needs to do it, he/they have work to do, just get on with it and stop whining and preening.

  9. thefrollickingmole
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I can’t see a problem with it provided a small concession is made to those ‘easily offended”.

    A scarf draped over the baby’s head and the lady’s breast is pretty effective at avoiding unwanted “boobage”.
    Geez we had Muslim ladies quite happy to use this method in a compound full of people, so I don’t think it’s beyone our liberated western sensibilities to do the same. Must admit it suprised me immensely the first few times I saw it though.

    Our local magistrate is on a quest to rid his courtroom of singlets, thongs, sunglasses and backwards caps, good on him for doing so.

  10. Adrien
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    the less important and impressive a judge is, the more he or she will enforce petty diktats like that (just to remind everyone who’s boss).

    There’s a lot of that going on in the world.

  11. Adrien
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Armagny – Sorry I just read the first bit and responded too quickly. I’d just been arguing with a redneck somewhere. Bit thorny at the moment.

    Not as bad as Mel, he needs must switch back to caf.

  12. kvd
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    Any connection between breastfeeding and ‘public indecency’, or artifices to save those ‘easily offended’ should be opposed vigorously. As LE said, we are, after all, mammals.

    But [email protected] I’m interested to know what your magistrate now wears, having discarded the singlet, thongs, and sunnies.

  13. Posted November 16, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, accepted of course. Been there many times.

  14. Sam
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    “I cant see a problem with it provided a small consession is made to those ‘easily offended”.

    A scarf draped over the babies head and the ladies breast is pretty effective at avoiding unwanted “boobage”.”

    See, even that is asking too much of a nursing mother and child, IMO. How comfortable is it to eat with a blanket over your head? How long can you really reasonably breath under a towel or something without feeling deprived of air flow? I would be pretty pissed if someone was SO OFFENDED by the sight of some breast that they wanted me to smother my child in an effort to cover my shame.

    No one seems to complain about the amount of cleavage most young women display… even in court. You should have seen the things these girls were wearing when I interned for a judge this summer. Indecent exposure, indeed…

  15. Mel
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    thefrollickingmole:

    “I cant see a problem with it provided a small consession is made to those ‘easily offended”.”

    Mole, would you wear a bag on your head to avoid upsetting anyone who finds you ugly? Should western women now wear headscarves to avoid offending muzzies?

  16. Adrien
    Posted November 16, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Adrien, accepted of course. Been there many times.

    Cheers, I should’ve known really. Shoot my keyboard off sometimes. Mostly I get away with it. 🙂

  17. thefrollickingmole
    Posted November 17, 2011 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Mel

    The scare quotes “” overthe easily offended was supposed to show I didnt agree with their views.
    But as LE said, light material makes public feeding a lot less of a pain for the mother and baby.

    The point of bringing up the Muslim ladies was to point out a culture we consider extremely backwards on womens issues has allready dealt with this issue long before we progressive nations have.

    The piece of cloth effectively makes it a private space if a bloke went out of his way for a perv then hes at fault, not the breat in question. It signaled that this was a private space with minimal disruption.

    Im probably explaining it clumsily, but it seemed a no fuss solution which, most importantly, didnt require laws, polliticans or moral busybodies input.

  18. Posted November 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Im pretty dissapointed with Adriens attitude in #3, 13 and 20. Apparently its ok to have a thorny argument with a redneck? I would have thought that an argument, discussion or debate shouldn’t rely on whether one of the debaters is a redneck, and that the tenor of their thought and consistency of their argument should matter far more than their politics. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m in the wrong place.
    Btw, no problem with breast feeding anytime anyplace. Only ongoing gripe is that our second daughter was brought up on formula because we were told she was lactose intolerant. Later on, far too late, we found out this was bullshit!

  19. kvd
    Posted November 19, 2011 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m in the wrong place.

    H2, you’re not wrong, and you are certainly not in the wrong place because your comments are always thoughtful, and to the point. Adrien was probably losing his argument to resort to such terminology. This happened to me once, many years ago, so I remember how he might feel. 😉

  20. Adrien
    Posted November 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Henry I agree that ” the tenor of their thought and consistency of their argument should matter far more than their politics” said redneck was an obtuse bigot. ‘Redneck’ is a term that often means such, yes?

    His argument was consistent in that it belied a total absence of thought but a surplus of hatred and bile. It was something to the effect that vegetarians were evil and should be shot.

    Then I came here and shot my mouth off at Argmany’s comment without drawing a breath. I then apologized. My attitude is disappointing. The principal of the school from which I graduated was always telling me so,

  21. Ken n
    Posted November 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    I believe this must be the most polite blog on the whole Internet. Even a small slight is withdrawn and apologized for.
    Makes a nice change from some of the others I used to read. And it’s not that you don’t tackle some of the difficult issues.

  22. Adrien
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    Makes a nice change from some of the others I used to read. And it’s not that you don’t tackle some of the difficult issues.

    No, you are lying. 🙂

  23. Ken n
    Posted November 20, 2011 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    And you are a hypocrite of the first water, Adrien.

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