Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
May 23, 2003
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     Native American Press/Ojibwe News

State appeals court to consider Red Lake parental kidnapping case

by Jeff Armstrong

The Minnesota Court of Appeals has agreed to hear an appeal from Donald Brun, Jr., a Red Lake man who has defied a lower court ruling for more than a year by refusing to return his daughter to the lawful custody of her mother, Leech Lake enrollee Jawnie Hough. If granted, the appeal would preclude Minnesota from enforcing civil judgments anywhere in the state if the case can be shown to arise from the Red Lake reservation.

"The Minnesota Supreme Court answered the question in Brun, holding that process cannot be served on an enrolled member of the Red Lake Nation who resides within reservation boundaries," Brun's brief maintains.

Brun and his parents kept Meghan without Hough's consent more than three years ago, then obtained a Red Lake court order on false pretenses. On June 19, 2001, the Beltrami County Court agreed to recognize the tribal order without notice to Hough, leading to a traumatic scene in a Minneapolis hospital seven months later as Meghan was wrenched from the arms of her mother, who was arrested and charged with "deprivation of parental rights."

Brun was ordered March 4 last year to relinquish custody of Meghan Brun by Beltrami County judge Terrance Holter, who accused Brun of "perpetrating misconduct upon this court." After ignoring the court order, Brun petitioned the court to invalidate the order September 23 on jurisdictional grounds. Brun's argument, claiming personal immunity from state jurisdiction, was denied the following day, but it will now be revisited by the appeals court.

Leech Lake attorney Frank Bibeau had petitioned the court to decline review of the case until Brun complied with the district court order, accusing Brun and his attorney, Lawrence Nichols, of misconduct and requesting that contempt charges and other sanctions be brought against the appellant.

"[Brun] has unclean hands until Appellant returns the subject child to the proper and rightful physical custodian," wrote Bibeau, further petitioning the court to arrest Brun for contempt and assess fines against him for misusing the courts to obstruct legal judgment. Nichols, he said, was in violation of professional ethics "by not disclosing that his client...has perpetrated misconduct on the Trial Court to wrongfully gain physical custody of the subject `under color of law,' and is continuing to deprive Respondent mother of her parental rights."

In an April 30 order, the appeals court said contempt jurisdiction remains with the district court and found the motion for civil damages premature.

"Pending appeal, the trial court retains jurisdiction to enforce its order or judgment... Proceedings to enforce the September 24 order must be brought in the trial court, not this court...[R]espondent's current motion does not demonstrate that the appeal is taken merely for delay, nor does the motion establish respondent's damages as a result of the appeal," the court ruled.

In his brief, Bibeau argues that Brun "does not deny the allegations (of domestic abuse), but instead attempts to blame the victims of Appellant's fifth degree felonies, following domestic assault on Respondent. The trial court correctly perceived the Appellant's callow disregard for the safety of Respondent mother and child, and the risk of flight to Red Lake, which is now a continuing reality with over two years of deprivation of parental rights by Appellant against Respondent's natural, constitutional and court ordered rights."


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