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Judge gives man ultimatum: Get COVID vaccine or violate probation

Published: Aug. 9, 2021 at 9:26 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX/Gray News) - Get the COVID-19 vaccine or violate probation – that is the ultimatum a judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, gave to a man in court Wednesday.

Brandon Rutherford says he was thrown that curveball by Common Pleas Judge Christopher Wagner while he waited to be sentenced for drug-related charges.

“[Judge Wagner] wanted to know, was I vaccinated, and I told him no, and I told him I ain’t planning on getting the vaccine,” said Rutherford. “And next thing you know, he told me, like, it was going to be court-ordered for me to get one.”

When Rutherford got to the probation office, the order was printed on his form saying he has two months to get the vaccine.

Carl Lewis, Rutherford’s attorney, said this is the first time he has seen a probation requirement like this.

“Whether you have a good intention or not, you cannot use the rule of law to order an individual to do something that is against their personal, philosophical, or even religious reasons, and my client says he does not wish to be vaccinated,” explained Lewis.

WXIX went to Judge Wagner’s chambers on Friday for comment.

He was not there but did issue a statement explaining his decision.

“This defendant was in possession of fentanyl, which is deadlier than the vaccine and COVID-19,” the statement reads. “The defendant expressed no objection during the proceedings and stated no medical concerns and his attorney did not object. We will have to see what happens now that the defendant is expressing opposition.”

The judge went on to say they might hold a hearing to see if Rutherford has good reason to not want the vaccine.

When asked if a judge can order someone to get vaccinated, Lewis said it is unprecedented.

“It’s going to be dropped or it’s going to be a boatload of litigation to say, ‘You have violated this young man’s rights,’” Lewis said.

According to Judge Wagner, judges make similar decisions regularly when it comes to a defendant’s physical and mental health, such as ordering drug, alcohol, or mental health treatment.

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