Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
March 29, 2002
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     Native American Press/Ojibwe News


Red Lake actions in child custody dispute may violate Violence Against Women Act


By Jeff Armstrong

Despite receiving at least $298,000 in grants under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Red Lake officials appear to be in violation of provisions of the act by failing to enforce a state court order against a tribal member who wrongfully took custody of his daughter.

Donald Brun, Jr. was ordered by Beltrami County District Judge Terrance Holter March 4 to return five-year-old Meghan Brun to her mother, Jawnie Hough no later than March 10.

Hough was first granted sole physical custody of Meghan in a May 5, 1999 state court Order for Protection filed against Brun for alleged domestic violence. In effect for one year, the OFP specifically states that the order is enforceable on the reservation.

After his parents took Meghan to the reservation March 15, 2000 and failed to return the child, Brun petitioned the Red Lake Court for custody without notifying Hough on April 13 of that year--while the protection order was still in effect.

Under the terms of VAWA, the reservation is obliged to apply state protection orders to the same extent as a tribal court judgment:

"Any protection order issued by a state or tribal court...shall be accorded full faith and credit by the court of another State or Indian Tribe...and enforced as if it were the order of the enforcing State or Tribe," the statute stipulates.

The law also bars courts from granting retaliatory protection orders to spouses who had such orders filed against them, unless both parties were allowed to testify and the court found there was no self-defense involved. Brun requested an Order for Protection against Hough on May 17, 1999--less than two weeks after he was ordered to refrain from contact with his ex-wife--without apparently explaining the cause for his action. Although Hough was not notified of the hearing, Judge Bruce Graves granted Brun's request June 16, 1999.

In fiscal year 1998, Red Lake received a $214,392 grant for its Women's Advocacy Program/Shelter to "address the legal issues associated with facilitating inter-jurisdictional enforcement of protection orders for Native American Reservations in Minnesota...and policy implications of complying with the full faith and credit provision of the Violence Against Women Act."

That same year, the reservation was awarded $84,000 under VAWA's Stop Violence Against Indian Women program. Tribal council chairman Bobby Whitefeather is listed as the contact person for both efforts.

Timeline of Hough Case:

    · May 5, 1999 Hough granted custody of Meghan Brun in OFP limiting paternal visitation due to concerns father would flee with child.

    · May 17, 1999 Brun files for restraining order in RL Court against Hough without serving notice upon her.

    · June 14, 1999 Divorce order reaffirms Hough's custody of daughter.

    · June 17, 1999 RL Court grants Brun's OFP request, sends copy to Beltrami County district judge Paul Benshoof.

    · March 15, 2000 Brun's parents pick up Meghan for routine visit, take child to reservation and refuse to return.

    · April 13, 2000 Brun petitions RL Court for custody of daughter, claiming she wishes him to take custody. Fails to notify Hough.

    · May 9, 2000 Ex parte hearing held in RL for custody of Meghan. Hough not notified.

    · May 22, 2000 RL court grants Brun and parents sole custody of Meghan.

    · June 6, 2000 Hough spots daughter at Bemidji barber, takes her home. Bruns report incident to Bemidji police.

    · June 16, 2000 Attorney Michael Ruffenach files motion for Brun under Beltrami County divorce file for enforcement of RL Court custody ruling. No notice given to Hough.

    · June 19, 2000 Judge Holter grants comity request in Hough's absence, orders law enforcement to return child to Bruns. Arrest warrant subsequently issued for Hough on parental abduction charges.

    · Jan. 10, 2001 Hough arrested and daughter seized at U of M hospital.

    · July 30, 2001 After lengthy search, Hough obtains lawyer and files motion to vacate state court order enforcing tribal court ruling.

    · Oct. 3, 2001 State court denies Hough's motion.

    · Jan. 28, 2002 Criminal charges dismissed against Hough.

    · March 4, 2002 State court finds Brun "perpetrated fraud upon the court" and orders Meghan's return to mother.

    · March 8, 2002 Ruffenach writes to Hough's attorney, Frank Bibeau, informing him client refuses to comply with court order; writes to judge Holter asking for reconsideration.

    · March 14, 2002 Judge Holter denies Brun's motion as moot.

    · March 15, 2002 Ruffenach informs court of resignation as counsel for Brun.


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