Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
March 8, 2002
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     Native American Press/Ojibwe News


State district judge orders child returned to mother, says Red Lake Tribal Court violated constitutional rights

By Jeff Armstrong

In a dramatic reconsideration of his earlier ruling, Beltrami County district judge Terrance Holter this week struck down a state judicial order enforcing a Red Lake court judgment which ultimately led to the arrest of Jawnie Hough on felony charges and the seizure of her four-year-old child.

Holter found that the father, Donald Brun, Jr., knowingly violated standing state court orders--a divorce decree and an order for protection--when he "failed to procure written consent from Petitioner to remove the subject child from the state of Minnesota" to the Red Lake Reservation. The judge further ruled Brun "did perpetrate misconduct on this court" by obtaining a tribal court order revoking the mother's legal custody of the child and failing to inform Hough of a state court comity petition to enforce the order.

"As a parent and primary physical custodian, the Petitioner has important and substantial legal rights which are constitutionally protected and require due process to alter or change," the judge wrote. "This court recognizes that parental rights are a fundamental right under the United States Constitution, which requires a reliable due process prior to depriving a citizen of those substantive rights."

Holter expressed "serious doubts as to the impartiality and/or due process protection afforded Petitioner in Red Lake Tribal Court."

The court ordered that Meghan be returned to the care of her mother before 5pm, March 10.

Hough had contended that she was never informed of the Red Lake hearing or the state comity proceeding until her daughter was taken from her at a University of Minnesota hospital Jan. 10, 2001. The Leech Lake woman maintains that she was never allowed to defend her rights or to question the parenting abilities of her ex-husband, who has been convicted of domestic assault.

Felony charges against Hough of deprivation of parental rights were conditionally dismissed Jan. 28, 2002. Judge Holter implied that Beltrami County Attorney Tim Faver may have filed a criminal case against the wrong party, accusing Brun of violating the statute under which Hough was charged.

Faver said he was unaware of the ruling and expressed no regrets for his criminal prosecution of the mother.

"The idea behind this statute is that people not resort to self-help," said Faver. "Instead of parents pulling kids back and forth, if you've got a beef let the court settle it."

The county attorney said judges should be responsible for ascertaining in such cases whether there is a contrary ruling in effect from another jurisdiction.

"The courts, in my mind, should require people to tell them whether there are any outstanding court orders from a different court," Faver said.

Judge Holter also issued the unusual directive that the Bruns not utilize the Red Lake court in any future custodial motions.

"While the practices of the Red Lake Tribal Court may be indicative of tribal notions of self-government and sovereignty, these procedures are seriously defective if the Tribal Court seeks to have its judgments enforced and recognized by other tribal courts, other state courts, or federal courts. The circumstances as they have developed mandate that subsequent proceedings take place in a neutral forum providing appropriate due process protections for all contestants," Holter wrote.

Faver said he did not know if the ruling would influence the light in which the county viewed future comity requests from Red Lake. If the Bruns failed to comply with the court order, he said, they could be held liable for charges of contempt of court or deprivation of parental rights, a felony.


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