Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
July 27, 2001

Small Legal Step to Regain Custody: Jawnie Hough update

by Clara NiiSka

About a month ago, Jawnie Hough had a court appearance scheduled on Monday, July 30.  The court appearance was another small legal step in regaining custody, or even visitation, of her four year old daughter whom Jawnie has not seen—nor even heard on the telephone—for more than six months.  The Ninth District Court, Beltrami County, was scheduled to hear a Motion to Vacate that court’s Ex Parte decision to reverse its adjudication of custody Jawnie’s daughter Meghan Brun to her mother.  (Black’s Law Dictionary defines “vacate” as: to annul; to set aside, to cancel or rescind, to render an act void.)

As Press/ON reported on March 16, 2001, Jawnie was awarded primary custody of her young daughter Meghan in a Beltrami County divorce decree on May 5, 1999.  Although Beltrami County had asserted ongoing jurisdiction over Meghan’s cutody, the Red Lake Indian court issued its own custody determination on May 22, 2000.  The Red Lake hearing was sought by Jawnie’s ex-husband, Donald Brun, Jr., a Red Lake enrollee, and Jawnie was not properly notified of the Red Lake hearing.

Four weeks later, on June 19, 2000, the Beltrami County Court acted on Donald Jr.’s “Application for Ex Parte Relief,” and reversed its own custody determination by rubber-stamping Red Lake’s order into Minnesota jurisdiction.  Jawnie Hough was, again, not notified of the proceedings.

Donald Jr. sought criminal charges against his ex-wife—for violating a Red Lake – turned Minnesota custody reversal about which she never been informed.  On January 9, 2001, Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver signed a criminal complaint against Jawnie Hough for the felony of depriving another of “custodial or parental rights,” even though Jawnie had still not been notified of the State’s having—ex parte—deprived her of State-awarded custody.  The very next evening, acting on a tip from one of Donald Jr.’s relatives, Jawnie and her daughter were detained by police at Fairview University Hospital in Minneapolis.  Meghan was taken from Jawnie’s arms, released into the custody of Donald Jr. and his parents, and taken to Red Lake.

On May 23, 2001, Jawnie Hough faced the criminal charges deriving from Beltrami County’s rubber-stamp “comity” of the Red Lake court order.  She pled “not guilty,” and the criminal charges against her were “deferred”—if she is not convicted of the same or similar charges for six months, the charges will be dismissed.

Jawnie Hough then began the process of legally regaining custody—or even visitation—with her four year old daughter Meghan, whom she has not seen for more than six months.  A hearing on her Motion to Vacate Beltrami County’s ex parte custody reversal had been scheduled for Monday, July 30th.

Donald Jr.’s attorney, Michael Ruffenach, asked for a “continuance”—that the hearing be further delayed.  Ruffenach reportedly told Beltrami County Judge Terrance Holter that he had “four other hearings” in which he was to represent other clients on July 30th, all of them in Crookston, Minnesota.  Press/ON contacted Ruffenach, and asked him about the unusual number of hearings he had scheduled in Crookston (about 80 miles west of Bemidji).

Ruffenach told this writer that the cases in which he was scheduled to appear in Crookston were a matter of “attorney-client privilege.”  Although Ruffenach assured Press/ON that the “vigilance of the press” was important in protecting the rights of Americans, he also said that he “didn’t need to have to confirm” the grounds on which he requested a continuance.

Press/ON accordingly contacted Polk County Court Administration in Crookston on July 24, and asked about the court appearances at which attorney Michael Ruffenach was scheduled to represent clients there on July 30th.  The Deputy Court Administrator checked the court calendar, and told Press/ON, “I don’t see him as an attorney for anyone on Monday, July 30th.  I ran through the entire calendar … I do not see his name at all.”

 Press/ON then telephoned Ruffenach again, and asked him about the apparent discrepancy between the grounds upon which he made his request for a continuance to Beltrami County Judge Holter—and the court calendar in Crookston.  Ruffenach replied that he was not going to “disclose the nature” of his alleged commitments in Crookston, and pointed out that the continuance had been granted by the Judge.  In response to Ruffenach’s statement that he “did not care to discuss the matter any more with you,” Press/ON publisher Bill Lawrence asked Ruffenach, “do you have anything to hide?”

Ruffenach responded by hanging up on the newspaper publisher.

Jawnie Hough’s Motion to Vacate is presently scheduled to be heard by Judge Terrance Holter in the Beltrami County Courthouse on August 7th at 11:00 a.m.

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