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A judge in Harnett County, North Carolina, put a man in prison for showing up for jury duty without a face mask.
Gregory Hahn, 47, was jailed for contempt of court after he refused to wear a face mask in Judge Charles Gilchrist's courtroom. Gilchrist is reportedly the only judge in the county who has implemented a mask mandate.
On Monday, Hahn appeared for orientation with 98 other people who were summoned for jury duty. He says that prior to showing up on Monday, there was no notice that jurors were required to wear masks.
“There were signs saying no masks were required,” Hahn told local news station WRAL-TV. “We all walked in.”
According to Superior Court clerk Renee Whittenton, everyone in Gilchrist's courtroom is required to wear a mask, and the jurors were notified of this requirement at check-in.
“You can go in any district courtroom without a mask, you can come into superior court without a mask and the [district attorney’s] office without a mask, but with Judge Gilchrist he has a mandate that you must wear a mask,” Whittenton told WRAL.
The clerk said that any juror who did not have one was provided with a mask to wear.
But Hahn said potential jurors were not told about the mask requirements. There was no notice on his summons. And there is not signage at the courthouse indicating masks are required.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask,’” Hahn said. “He said, ‘I understand you don’t want to wear a mask,’ and I said, ‘That is correct, sir,’ and he says, ‘Why?’”
Hahn said the judge asked him again if he would refuse to wear a mask in the courtroom. He told Gilchrist that was correct.
“[Gilchrist] said ‘24 hours in the Harnett County jail,’” Hahn told WRAL.
Hahn was then handcuffed, booked, and taken to jail under no bond for contempt of court.
"I never thought this could happen in this country," Hahn said.
Harnett and Lee Counties issued a joint order on March 10, 2022, permitting the presiding judge in each courtroom to decide, at their discretion, whether masks are required, WRAL reported. Masks are optional in hallways, foyers, restrooms, meeting rooms, and other areas elsewhere in the courthouse.
Hahn said he asked the judge if he could be excused since it was one day in jail.
He recounted that Gilchrist said, "I could, but I'm not going to."
Hahn, a single father, also asked if he could call his son at home. The judge refused, Hahn said.
“I was dumbfounded,” Hahn said. “I felt it was bullying.”
He told WRAL that his 24 hours spent in jail were the worst of his life and accused the judge of bringing in his personal beliefs into the courtroom.
"I'm jailed for doing my civic duty and not doing anything," Hahn said. "It's mind-boggling."
He added that the judge acted hypocritically and told WRAL he's considering filing a lawsuit.
“The irony of this whole thing is that the judge was talking to me without a mask on,” Hahn told WRAL.
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