2018-08-08 / Editorial


Michael N. Searles

In a Legal Zoom article by Mariah Wojdacz, “Jury Dodgers: What Really Happens ifYou Ignore Your Jury Summons?”, she outlines real life situations. Jermaine Dupri, CEO of So So Def Recordings recently served a three-day jail sentence in Fayetteville, Georgia for missing jury duty in March 1999. In 2003, Massachusetts fined nearly 48,000 people $2000 each for missing jury duty, under new laws that criminalize repeat offenders. Los Angeles County has fined residents who failed to serve jury duty a total of over $940,000. New York County fined 1,443 jury dodgers in Manhattan $250 each. The message is clear when a court orders a person to do something, there can be serious consequences. Civil contempt of court most often happens when someone fails to adhere to an order from the court, with resulting injury to a private party's rights. The court may order incarceration of people held in civil contempt, but unlike individuals charged with criminal contempt, people held in civil contempt are generally not given the same constitutional rights that are guaranteed to criminal contempt defendants. Civil contempt sanctions can be indefinite, lasting until either the underlying case is resolved or the party in contempt complies with the court order. Prior to federal court actions, the Trump Administration adopted a hard line immigration policy. One Homeland Security official said: “Either we choose to enforce the law, or we choose to ignore it, and this administration has made it clear we’re not going to ignore the law any longer,” In the past, parents often were released pending court appearances; the practice and other alternatives to detention meant immigrants were “incentivized to break the law.” Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions went even further citing the Bible for separating parents from their children. “Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 says obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” The President’s Zero Tolerance policy and separation of families may have resonated with his base, but the Courts responded differently. Federal judge Dana Sabraw rejected the Trump administration’s argument that it shouldn’t have to reunite children with parents who have been deported. During a court hearing Judge Sabraw ruled that parents who had already been removed from the country prior to his injunction blocking President Donald Trump’s family separation policy must still be reunited with their children. Government lawyers have conceded they will fail to reunite all the families by the deadline set. Hundreds of parents already have been deported without their children, and the government has been unable to locate many others. It is blaming the delay on the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) policies designed to prevent children in its custody from being placed with human traffickers and other adults who may pose a threat to children. However, various federal courts are challenging the Trump administration on its decision and inability to reunite parents and children. A federal judge in Connecticut declared the forced separation of two immigrant children from their parents to be unconstitutional. It has become obvious that some of the parents and children will not be united in the Court mandated time frame, and some may never be reunited.

The most recent Court finding criticized the Administration’s failure to meet its order as government officials admit that not every family will be reunited by the judge’s deadline; the same occurred with the smaller group of 103 children age 4 and younger. Judge Dana Sabraw has described the Administration’s listing of “horrors” of giving children to non-parents as excuses for not meeting the court’s deadline. The Court can be lenient and give the government more time to work things out or it could lock up Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nietsen and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Michael Azar II for civil contempt until their Offices adhere to order from the Court. While the powerful and influential are given leeway, average citizens must comply with a court order or face jail.

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