(Note: Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen has requested the media to withhold the name of the child and the names of the doctors in this case, due to the nature of this story. New Times has published these names in past stories.)
Heather Hironimus, the mother of a 4-year-old boy caught in the middle of a circumcision case, has been ordered to appear before Judge Jeffrey Dana Gillen of the 15th judicial district in Palm Beach County on Tuesday or be found in contempt.
In a hearing held Friday, Gillen heard testimony from the boy's father, Dennis Nebus, over how Hironimus has fled and vanished with their son. Nebus also asked the court to have Hironimus stop allowing anti-circumcision activists to continue using their son's name and likeness on the internet. She had been ordered to do so in the past but has disobeyed that court order.
The case revolves around the separated couple's fight over whether the child can be circumcised. The couple had previously agreed that Nebus would pay for and schedule the child's circumcision. But Hironimus has been arguing that there is no medical reason for her son to be circumcised and that the procedure could harm or even kill the boy. The practice is even more scrutinized now that the boy is no longer a newborn.
However, Nebus testified that three doctors who were supposed to perform the procedure on the boy had removed themselves from doing so after apparently receiving what he called "threatening letters" from activists calling for the father not to have the boy circumcised. Nebus claimed that he too had received death threats.
During his testimony, Nebus detailed an incident where Hironimus burst into a doctor's office where the child was being examined in order to schedule a procedure. Nebus said she "threw a tantrum" and yelled at the medical staff that she had not given consent for the boy to be examined by the doctor. Nebus said their son, who had witnessed the outburst, was "visibly shaken." He also claimed that the boy had expressed fear over getting a circumcision. Nebus hinted on the stand that this was due to Hironimus' using "scare tactics" on the boy, though he didn't make clear what those tactics might've been.
Nebus also testified that the mother had been allowing the anticircumcision activists to use the child's likeness and name on their websites, as well as on posters and picket signs during protests outside the courthouse as well as at CityPlace.
Gillen said he expected that, although Hironimus was ordered not to allow the boy's name and likeness to be taken from her personal Facebook and used on these websites, she did anyway. "I expected this to happen," Gillen said during his ruling, "that the child's likeness would be used, making him an object of curiosity on the Internet."
More pressing, however, is that Hironimus and the child have gone missing since the last scheduled doctor's visit on February 19. Nebus testified that he visited the home of the mother to take the boy for his prearranged visiting time and found no one home. The car was also gone, and when he tried calling Hironiumus, he said the phone was turned off.
Hironimus was not present during Friday's hearing, and the judge ordered that she and the child report to court on Tuesday by 2 p.m. or face the consequences.
Gillen had ordered a gag order on Hironimus to not speak to the media at a previous hearing. The case has made headlines, has been the cause of much debate on the internet and has even caught the attention of actor Russell Crowe. Anticircumcision activists -- sometimes called "intactivists" -- have been extremely vocal about the case and have befriended Hironimus on Facebook and social media. They've also launched several websites with the boy's name.
Nebus testified that the boy's likeness had been used as early as December, when the mother allowed the groups to take a recent photo of the child with Santa Claus taken at a department store. They were also given access to the mother's Halloween photos of the child.
"It's unfortunate that due to the mother's actions, the child has been placed in this position -- the light of too much scrutiny for a little boy," Gillen said. "I blame the mother for this. She has willfully denied a court order and has provided the father with no information of their son's whereabouts. Leaving the father to wonder where his son is is reprehensible."
Gillen put a pickup order into effect for Hironimus.
"If she does not [appear with the child on Tuesday], I will sign a writ of bodily attachment."
This means if Hironimos and her son do not obey the court's order, she'll be hunted down by authorities. Gillen also said he would have her passport suspended and not allow the boy to have a passport issued.
Moreover, Gillen said that he had heard enough testimony from doctors that circumcision is safe. "I have heard testimony from doctors that there are zero cases of penile cancer in circumcised males, but there have been some cases in uncircumcised males," Gillen said. "I've also heard testimony from doctors that there are less cases of STDs in circumcised males than in uncircumcised males."
Gillen, saying he wanted to "rein in this case," also added that circumcision is "short, under local anesthesia, and, at this stage of the boy's life, very, very safe."
Gillen found Hironimus in contempt of court for allowing the use of the boy's likeness on the internet and said that Hironimus is responsible for Nebus' attorney fees. Gillen reserved ruling on how much that fee is.