Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
March 15, 2002
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     Native American Press/Ojibwe News

Red Lake family refuses to comply with state court order to return child to mother

By Jeff Armstrong

A Red Lake family has defied a state judge’s order to return a child whose custody they acquired through dubious tribal and state court motions to the care of her mother.

In a March 4 ruling, Beltrami County district judge Terrance Holter ordered Donald Brun, Sr., his wife Geraldine Brun and his son Donald Brun, Jr., the girl’s father, to return custody of five-year-old Meghan Brun to her mother, Jawnie Hough, before 5 p.m. March 10.

Invalidating an earlier ruling, Holter held that Donald Brun, Jr. “did perpetrate misconduct on this court” by obtaining a state court order enforcing a tribal court judgment without providing notice to Hough or informing either court of two previous orders granting her custody. Holter found that the tribal court failed to provide for due process in depriving the mother of “a fundamental right under the United States Constitution” and ordered that any future proceedings be held “in a neutral forum.”

Hough said she waited for the Bruns in the company of a Bemidji police officer at a pre-arranged meeting place until well past the hour of the court’s Sunday deadline. The Anishinabe woman said she was disappointed--but not surprised--by the family’s failure to comply with the judicial order.

“I figured they wouldn’t show up,” said Hough. “They still think they can run and hide behind reservation lines.”

Anticipating such a response by the Bruns, the district court order had directed “the Beltrami County Sheriff…to take physical custody of the child and return the child to the jurisdiction of this county and Petitioner” in the event of the paternal relatives’ non-compliance.

Beltrami County sheriff Keith Winger could not be reached for comment, but other county law enforcement staff said they were unaware of either the order itself or any attempt to enforce it.

Red Lake director of public safety Pat Mills, whose cooperation would likely be needed to enforce the court’s directive, said he had received no request for assistance from county officials.

“I have had no contact with the County Attorney or law enforcement personnel on this matter,” said Mills. “If they call us, we will refer them to the tribal court.”

Donald Brun, Jr. could not be located for comment. His father hung up the phone when this reporter identified himself.

Brun’s attorney, Michael Ruffenach, denied any role in his client’s refusal to return the child or any other alleged misconduct.

“How am I a party to the misconduct of my client?” asked Ruffenach, accusing Press/ON of biased coverage of the case.

Ruffenach wrote to judge Holter on March 7, requesting a stay of his custody order which the attorney concedes was not granted. The following day, Ruffenach wrote to opposing counsel Frank Bibeau, stating that “my client is not going to return the child.” According to the March 8 letter, Meghan Brun, whom Ruffenach refers to as “Agnus” in his previous letter, “is under the jurisdiction of the Red Lake Juvenile court.” Ruffenach said Red Lake social services called his office March 7 to inform the attorney that the tribal agency had taken custody of the child without providing further details.

Willa Beaulieu, a tribal court employee named by the attorney in his March 8 letter, failed to return a call from the press to confirm the assertion.

Ruffenach maintains the central issue in dispute is the jurisdiction of the state court to reconsider its comity order, which the attorney claims has never been explored by the courts. He said no determination has been made whether to appeal the state decision.

“If the Red Lake court had authority to issue its decision, what jurisdiction does Minnesota have to lift it?” the attorney asked.

Beltrami County attorney Tim Faver said the county has no written extradition agreement with Red Lake, only an informal arrangement pertaining to criminal matters. Faver said he would review the case for potential criminal offenses if a formal complaint is filed, but he also expressed confidence that the two law enforcement agencies would jointly resolve the dispute.

“I assume the Sheriff’s Department would ask for the cooperation of the Red Lake Police Department and I assume that they would receive it,” said Faver.

Faver said any contempt of court charges would have to be initiated by Hough or her attorney in a motion to judge Holter.

Coleen Rouley, a legal adviser to the Minneapolis FBI, said state criminal charges would likely have to precede a federal indictment. However, Rouley said the Bureau would examine the state court files on the case to assess whether it had jurisdiction in the matter.



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