Friday, December 11, 2009

In Ohio ~ Judge gives props—and a fine to superhero protesters

Published: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 7:32 PM EST

By Steph Greegor

Steve McIntosh said the protest staged by Paul Fisher of Columbus and Donald Tenn of Sacramento, Calif., may indeed have been effective. But it was also illegal—and expensive.

A year ago, Fisher and Tenn—dressed as Spider-Man and Superman—climbed a 200-foot crane sitting at a construction site near Ohio Stadium and hung a massive “Stop the war on fatherhood” banner as 100,000 people streamed by on their way to OhioState’s football game against Minnesota.

The dangerous duo recently pleaded guilty to criminal damaging in front of McIntosh, a FranklinCounty common pleas court judge.

The protest may have been “effective in educating people,” said McIntosh. But he quickly added, “Where I had a real problem was that the company they inconvenienced had absolutely nothing to do with their cause.”

As part of their plea agreement, Fisher and Tenn must pay the contractor who was renting the crane $5,500 in restitution—an amount equal to the crane’s rental fee, plus the cost to have the crane they climbed inspected. McIntosh suspended a 90-day jail sentence and placed both men on probation for one year.

The nonprofit organization both men are associated with, Fathers 4 Justice, began in 2004 as an advocacy group for better treatment of fathers within the family court system. It doesn’t, however, endorse illegal demonstrations such as the one performed by Tenn and Fisher, said Brian Holladay, Ohio’s state coordinator for Fathers 4 Justice.

“We can’t even say we approve or disapprove or we like or dislike it,” he said.”

Despite that, Holladay can’t deny that the incident created a buzz for his organization.

“It makes an impact. It’s definitely raising public awareness because it gets people excited—it gets them involved,” Holladay said.

The men said they were trying to do exactly that. But awareness doesn’t necessarily equate to change.
“The only people who could make changes would be the legislature or the judges who handle visitation issues,” said McIntosh. “You can protest and there are means of protesting—we have people in front of the courthouse regularly exercising their First Amendment rights—I don’t know there’s any particular way of doing it. Could they have accomplished the same thing by walking around with the banner instead? I don’t know.”

“In this country, many changes have come from protest,” said McIntosh. “But I think it’s rare a single protest causes change.”

Fisher and Tenn both say they have suffered at the hands of a family court system that often favors the mother over the father when it comes to visitation rights. Tenn, president of the U.S. chapter of Fathers 4 Justice, said he hasn’t seen his 6-year-old daughter, Madison, since 2007, after his ex-wife filed a restraining order against him. Fisher has been fighting for more than his allotted four-days-a-month visitation time with his daughter, Demetra, 7.

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