Advocacy Journalism - justice for Jawnie Hough

A terrible saga for Jawnie Hough
May 24, 2002

State Courts & Tribal Courts
Attorneys face off in Hough v. Brun

by Clara NiiSka

On Monday, May 20th, Jawnie Hough and her attorney Caryn Ye appeared in state court in Beltrami County.  The scheduled purpose of the hearing was for Donald Brun, Jr., to show why the court “should not hold you in contempt” for his failure to return Meghan Brun to her mother Jawnie Hough.  On March 4, 2002, the court had ordered that Meghan be “promptly returned to the proper custody [of Jawnie Hough] before 5:00 p.m., March 10, 2002.”

Meghan Brun remains at Red Lake, in the custody of her paternal grandparents Geraldine and Donald “Dutch” Brun, Sr.

The court was also scheduled to consider a proposed order authorizing both state and federal law enforcement agencies to return Meghan to the legal custody of her mother, and imposing criminal sanctions on Donald Brun, Jr. for his failure to return the child.

A few days before the hearing, Brun’s attorney Lawrence Nichols filed papers objecting to the proposed order on the grounds that Public Law 280 exempted Donald Brun, Jr. from the jurisdiction of the state court – even though the original custody order had been issued by the state court, and even though Donald’s parents Geraldine and Dutch Brun had violated the state court’s order, issued in 1999, that prohibited taking Meghan to Red Lake for the purposes of asserting Red Lake Indian jurisdiction.


There is a kind of ceremony to the legal process, and four generations of Jawnie Hough’s family came to the courthouse to support her, although Jawnie’s grandmother waited outside the courtroom with her grandniece because children are not generally allowed in the courtrooms.

There was an extra-solemn atmosphere in the Beltrami County Courthouse on Monday: retired Judge James Preece had died unexpectedly on May 14th, and his funeral was scheduled an hour and a half after the Hough v. Brun hearing was scheduled.  Courthouse staff were dressed with somber formality, and a wreath stood outside the door of the adjoining courtroom.  Press/ON publisher Bill Lawrence, grieving with the sudden death of his only son Joel on the evening of May 17th, was also present for Hough v. Brun hearing.

Dutch and Geraldine Brun, accompanied by their daughter, also showed up for the hearing, although neither Donald Brun, Jr. nor Meghan Brun was there.


The hearing itself was relatively short.  Donald Brun, Jr.’s attorney, Lawrence Nichols, presented a surprise motion – to vacate the entire proceedings based on lack of “subject matter jurisdiction.”  The present custody hearings are, legally, a continuation of the custody determination made as a part of Jawnie Hough’s 1999 divorce from Donald Brun, Jr.  Nichols argued that his client, a Red Lake tribal enrollee, was immune from state court actions, including the personal service of the 1999 divorce papers, and that therefore the entire proceedings were void—going all the way back to 1999 and even invalidating the divorce.

Should the courts accept Nichols’s legal theory, it would be almost impossible to divorce a Red Lake enrollee – except in tribal court.

The attorneys proposed that time be granted for legal briefs to be filed and responded to, and presiding Judge Terrance Holter gave Nichols thirty days to write his brief, and Ye twenty days to respond.

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