Monday was already a good day in federal court in South Dakota. And then…and then!
When a U.S. Marshal on May 10 refused to follow his order and state whether she had been vaccinated for coronavirus or not, U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann booted her from his Aberdeen courtroom. When she mouthed off and participated in her bosses’ scheme to sabotage Judge Kornmann’s afternoon docket by removing defendants from the courthouse and denying them their hearings, the flabbergasted Judge Kornmann told her bosses, including the U.S. Marshals’ chief of Staff from Washington, D.C., to come to his courtroom June 14 and explain why he shouldn’t cite them all for contempt of court.
Yesterday, Marshals’ Chief of Staff John Kilgallon, U.S. Marshall Daniel Mosteller, and Deputy U.S. Marshal Stephen Houghtaling trooped into the Aberdeen federal courtroom, all wearing masks, to face the wrath of a judge furious at the law enforcement officers’ disregard for judicial authority:
“This was such an outrageous thing to do,” he said during a hearing on Monday. “Nothing like this that we could find has ever been done in this country. If it is the marshals’ position that they can override court orders, they are badly mistaken” [Joseph Choi, “Federal Judge Charges Marshals with Obstruction in Fight over Vaccination Status Disclosure,” The Hill, 2021.06.14].
“When you move someone against their will, that’s kidnapping,” said Kornmann. “I don’t care who you are.”
…The proceedings ensued one month after a deputy marshal absconded with three criminal defendants from the federal courthouse in Aberdeen after she’d refused to answer Judge Kornmann’s question of whether she’d been vaccinated or not against COVID-19. After Kornmann ordered her out of the courtroom, citing danger to the criminal defendants, the deputy and other marshals vacated the courthouse with three defendants in their custody, delaying that day and the next’s scheduled hearings [Christopher Vondracek, “‘I Don’t Care Who You Are’: South Dakota Federal Judge Sets Trial Date for 3 US Marshals over Courthouse Vaccination Fight,” Forum News Service via The Dickinson Press, 2021.06.14].
…and science and public health:
The judge railed against what he called “political nonsense” that citizens had absolute “freedom” to abstain from vaccinations, even during deadly pandemics, listing off, for example, the requirement that children be vaccinated against certain communicable diseases before attending public school.
“We’re talking about science,” said Kornmann. “If you are refusing to take the vaccine… let me know” [Vondracek, 2021.06.14].
Judge Kornmann said the Marshals could end the proceedings by apologizing, admitting to civil charges of contempt of court, and, reports Vondracek, each “paying $5,000 to an admitting attorneys fund for the state.” They declined, so Judge Kornmann proceeded to charge them with criminal contempt of court and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The judge imposed no bond, but the two South Dakota-based Marshals, Mosteller and Houghtaling, can’t leave the state and D.C.-based Kilgallon can’t leave the country until after their September 13 trial.
Boy, Marshals, Judge Kornmann sounds really mad. He gave you a chance to admit you were naughty, but you told him to buzz off and earned yourselves a criminal trial. Are you sure you want to die on this hill (and die you will, says very recent court precedent), just because you don’t want your people to tell the judge whether they’ve gotten coronavirus shots and thus pose significantly less risk of exposing people in the judge’s courtroom to coronavirus? Just give up! Plead guilty, pay the fine, and get your shots—or, fine! don’t get your shots, but just tell Judge Kornmann that so he can arrange for more responsible, civic-minded, court-respecting law enforcement officers to provide security in his federal courtroom.
Monday’s beating should have been enough for you marshals; you really don’t want to come back in September for a total thrashing and criminal penalties… which probably don’t look good on a federal law enforcement officer’s record.