Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
May 17, 2002

Jawnie Hough update:
Attorney Nichols tries to reassert jurisdiction of Red Lake Indian court
in Minnesota court case

by Clara NiiSka

 On May 10, 2002, Donald Brun, Jr.’s new attorney, Lawrence Nichols of the Twin Cities’ suburb Eagan served Jawnie Hough’s attorney with a motion to vacate Bemidji Judge Terrence Holter’s March 4th order acknowledging Hough’s custody of her daughter, Megan.  In his motion, Nichols argues that the Beltrami County District Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case “with respect to child custody issues and all other issues … pursuant to Public Law 280 (28 USC 1360(a)).”

 Press/ON telephoned Nichols, and asked him about the motion.  Nichols said that “the Brun case” involves the “exact same issues” as State v. Reynolds, a custody dispute involving the child of Shillo Reynolds.  Reynolds, the daughter of Norine (née Beaulieu) and Paul Smith of Red Lake, “married a guy from Prairie Island” and, according to Nichols, after her divorce “found herself in jail in on a criminal charge” in Dakota County because she evaded State custody jurisdiction by taking her child to Red Lake.

 As Reynolds’s attorney, Nichols argued to Judge Duane Harves of Dakota County that “Indian law does not apply” with reference to Red Lake.  The reservation, he told Press/ON, is an “insular possession of the United States.”  Nichols convinced the Dakota County Judge that because Red Lakers are ‘immune’ from service of state process at Red Lake – Commissioner of Taxation v. Brun – the state court’s determination of custody in the Reynolds’s divorce was not valid, and the Red Lake “tribal court’s” granting of custody to Shillo Reynolds was the applicable law in Dakota County.  Willa Beaulieu, who at that time headed the Red Lake child protection team, is the sister of Shillo Reynolds’s mother Norine Smith, and during an interview for an article published in Press/ON on April 26th, Beaulieu cited State v. Reynolds as precedent supporting her claims that the Red Lake court had custody jurisdiction over Jawnie Hough’s daughter Meghan Brun.

 Nichols says that most of his legal practice is in criminal defense, although he takes a smattering of other cases.  When Press/ON asked Nichols for an interview, he agreed to meet in ‘neutral territory’ and suggested an upscale bar on Grand Avenue in St. Paul.  Nichols has the feral, aggressively handsome demeanor of several other successful Twin Cities criminal defense lawyers, and answered the cell phone he carried in the pocket of his immaculately tailored suit, “law office.”

<> While setting up the interview, Nichols told Press/ON that Beltrami County Judge Holter “analyzes the [Meghan Brun custody] case under Indian law,” and sharply criticized Judge Holter, saying that he “appears to be racist and insane.”  Nichols said that In Re the custody of K.K.S. was among the precedents controlling determination of the custody of Meghan Brun.  In that case, the Red Lake Indian court’s assertion of custody jurisdiction over K.K.S. was upheld by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  The syllabus of Minnesota Court of Appeals Judge Short’s November 1993 opinion reads: “A state trial court does not have exclusive jurisdiction over a custody dispute where a non-Indian parent flees the jurisdiction of a tribal court.”

K.K.S. is the child of Patricia Neadeau, enrolled with a blood quantum of 13/32, and a white man – and with less than ¼ “Red Lake blood quantum,” K.K.S. is legally non-Indian and thus not generally subject to Indian jurisdiction.

 In the swank Grand Avenue bar, Nichols explained to Press/ON that the legal situation in the Hough v. Brun case is “indistinguishable” from the Reynolds case.

<> Nichols detailed the complex jurisdictional interface between the State of Minnesota, the United States Government, and residual tribal jurisdiction as he sees it.  In the legal papers he has filed with the Beltrami County court on behalf of his client Donald Brun, Jr., Nichols argues that P.L. 280, which specifically excepted Red Lake from state jurisdiction, means that the State did not have “subject matter jurisdiction” over the divorce which Jawnie Hough filed in Beltrami County, and thus that subsequent legal actions arising from that case are not valid. 

“If you are in excepted Indian country,” Nichols told Press/ON, “you are immune from the reach of state court—clearly immune from the reach of state court,” that is his reading of P.L. 280, he said.  He also explained that under Commissioner of Taxation v. Brun, “people at Red Lake are immune from service of process,” meaning that the legal papers necessary to initiate a state court case cannot be served on a Red Lake Indian “domiciled” on the reservation.

Nichols also uses the word “domicile” in the legal papers he recently filed in the Hough v. Brun case.  The notion of “domicile” played a pivotal role in the state court’s determination in another state tax case involving the Bruns, Commissioner of Revenue v. Brun (1995).  In that case, the State court found that Francis “Chunky” and Barbara Brun were not liable for state taxes because – despite the indisputable fact that they resided in Bemidji – they had not “intended” to “abandon the Red Lake Reservation as their domicile.” In legalese, the meaning of “domicile” can be interpreted to mean something like, “home is where the heart is.”

The 1995 Brun case concerned Chunky and Barbara Brun’s move to Bemidji after their house at Red Lake had been burned during the 1979 revolution at Red Lake.  It rested heavily on the precedent established by the 1989 tax case, Jourdain v. Commissioner of Revenue, in which the Minnesota tax court found that tribal chairman Roger Jourdain – who also left the reservation after the 1979 revolution – and his wife Margaret were “presently residing off the Reservation temporarily until they are able to return” and thus not required to pay state income taxes.  The state tax court’s interpretation of “domicile” is of questionable application in the present Hough v. Brun case.

 In the divorce papers that may become a pivotal issue in the custody of Meghan Brun, Donald Brun, Jr.’s address is listed as a Red Lake post office box; Donald Jr. reportedly split his time between a girlfriend at Red Lake and his parents’ home in Bemidji.  Jawnie Hough told Press/ON that her sister, Elizabeth Hough, physically served the divorce papers on Donald Brun, Jr.

 At the time she filed for divorce, Jawnie Hough told Press/ON, she was attending school in Bemidji, and she and her daughter Meghan were living with Jawnie’s mother, Leech Lake enrollee Roberta Headbird, in Bemidji.  Although Jawnie Hough and Donald Brun, Jr. were married in a Catholic ceremony at Red Lake, they obtained a state marriage license and after their marriage resided off-reservation, in Sauk Rapids and in Bemidji, Minnesota.

 Jawnie Hough’s daughter Meghan is currently at Red Lake, in the physical custody of her ex-husband’s parents, Donald and Geraldine Brun.  Jawnie has not seen her daughter since the little girl was taken from her arms by University of Minnesota police – in Minneapolis – on January 10, 2001.  The U of M police were acting on a Red Lake Indian court order entered into Minnesota jurisdiction, ex parte, on the affidavit of Donald Brun, Jr.

The Red Lake court claimed jurisdiction over Meghan after Donald and Geraldine took the child from Bemidji for a “visit” in March 2000, and in violation of a then-extant state court order, took her to Red Lake reservation and refused to return her.  Jawnie Hough retrieved her child when the Bruns brought Megan to Bemidji for a haircut.

The Bruns responded by – in what Judge Holter subsequently described as “perpetuating misconduct on the District Court” – entering the Red Lake court’s custody order into State jurisdiction.

Jawnie Hough told Press/ON that when she telephones the Brun’s residence and asks to speak with her daughter, the Bruns tell her that the little girl isn’t there.  “I can hear her in the background,” Jawnie said.

 Will the young mother ever see her daughter again?  There is a hearing scheduled at the Beltrami County Courthouse on Monday, May 20th.

 On one side, Jawnie Hough’s attorney has made a motion that Donald Brun, Jr., be compelled to return Meghan Brun to her mother’s custody.  On the other side, Donald Brun, Jr.’s attorney has made a motion to invalidate the entire State court proceedings – he says that this may include the divorce awarded to Jawnie Hough more than three years ago by the State court.

 Can the Red Lake Indian court legally extend its jurisdiction over a Leech Lake Indian in Bemidji – or Minneapolis?  Donald Brun, Jr.’s attorney explained his position to Press/ON.  “The Indians have been screwed for so long – what goes around, comes around,” Nichols said during the May 15th interview.  If you marry a Red Laker, he added, “you take your chances, and there is not a damn thing that the State of Minnesota can do about it …”

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