Federal Judge Africk authoritatively remands activist Parker-Brown’s indirect contempt charge straight back to 22nd JDC.

Carl Brown, husband of community activist Belinda Parker-Brown, asserting on September 7, 2023 that her organization, Louisiana United International, had seen, “its Constitutional Rights trampled upon by what just happened in there,” made it clear that they would be taking the matter up in Federal Court after 22nd JDC Judge William Burris banned Parker-Brown from his courtroom permanently and assessed a $1,000 fine for “constructive contempt of court” with that fine being payable within 30 days.

Ten (10) days ago, on September 9, 2023, we published this feature entailing community activist Belinda Parker-Brown being permanently banned from 22nd JDC Judge William Burris’ courtroom.  From the preceding feature:

The hearing lasted two (2) hours during which numerous witnesses were called by Judge Burris.  Several Public Defenders testified under oath that they’d admonished Parker-Brown that she’d been acting as an attorney with no license.  That was the whole basis of Judge Burris’ Rule to Show Cause entailing alleged violations of LA CCrP Article 23:4 and 23:6.

Upon the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Burris ruled that Parker-Brown had in fact committed, “egregious violations of Sections four and six,” after which he imposed a fine of $1,000 and taxed Parker-Brown with all court costs associated with the hearing.  Parker-Brown indicated to Judge Burris that she would be appealing, to which Judge Burris stated, “That’s fine.  You can follow the proper process for launching an appeal.”  Parker-Brown then informed the court reporter that she would, “need a transcript of the proceedings as fast as possible.”

After the hearing, Parker-Brown’s husband, Carl, made it abundantly clear that, “the fight is on” in emphasizing the fact that, hours before the hearing on September 7, 2023, Brown had filed this “Joint Notice of Removal to Federal Court.  Let’s take a look at a 37-second video clip of Brown emphasizing that fact:

September 7, 2023:  Carl Brown emphasizes that, “Now the fight is on.  Now there’s a bigger dog (Federal Court) in the fight.”

The day after Brown made the authoritative declaration entailing, “a bigger dog (Federal Court) in the fight,” September 8, 2023, Parker-Brown filed this “suggestion of Contempt of Removal” into Federal Court essentially seeking to have 22nd JDC Judge William Burris appear in front of Federal Judge Lance M. Africk and state why he should not be sanctioned for an alleged “contempt” of Parker-Brown’s removal filing to Federal Court.

On Monday, September 18, 2023, Federal Judge Africk filed this Order and Reasons for why he remanded the case back to 22nd JDC.  Here are some key takeaways entailing Africk’s ruling:

Section 1455(a) requires defendants “desiring to remove any criminal prosecution from a State court” to file a signed “notice of removal . . . containing a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such action.” Section 1455(b)(1) further provides that “a notice of removal of a criminal prosecution shall be filed not later than 30 days after the arraignment in State court, or at any time before trial, whichever is earlier, except that for good cause shown the United States district court may enter an order granting the defendant or defendants leave to file the notice at a later time.”

Defendants’ notice of removal, which seeks to remove both the criminal case against Ratliff and the related contempt proceedings against Parker-Brown “as one single proceeding,”8 does not comply with § 1455(a)’s requirements. The notice does contain a statement of the grounds for removal; however, as stated, § 1455(a) also requires defendants seeking removal to file “a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon” them, in addition to stating the grounds for removal.

However, defendants failed to file “a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon” Ratliff in the criminal case they seek to remove. 28 U.S.C. § 1455(a). For example, they did not include a copy of the bill of information referenced in the “Case Summary.”18 This alone justifies summary remand to the state court.

Further, defendants’ notice of removal is untimely. As explained, absent good cause, “a notice of removal of a criminal prosecution shall be filed not later than 30 days after the arraignment in State court, or at any time before trial, whichever is earlier[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 1455(b)(1). Based on the Case Summary filed by defendants, Ratliff was arraigned on July 13, 2022.19 Accordingly, the notice of removal—which seeks to remove Ratliff’s criminal case as well as Parker-Brown’s more recent contempt proceedings “as one single proceeding”—is untimely and should be summarily remanded.20 In view of the Court’s disposition of this case, the hearing requested by defendants is unwarranted.21

Beyond the aforementioned grounds for summary remand, it is also clear that, contrary to defendants’ assertions, there is no statutory basis for removing this criminal case to federal court.

In conducting its analysis, the Court notes the “strong judicial policy against federal interference with state criminal proceedings.” Mesa v. California, 489 U.S. 121, 138 (1989) (citing Arizona v. Manypenny, 451 U.S. 232, 243 (1981)). The Court also recognizes that any doubts regarding whether removal jurisdiction is proper should be resolved against federal jurisdiction. Acuna v. Brown & Root, Inc., 200 F.3d 335, 339 (5th Cir. 2009).

Defendants argue that Parker-Brown qualifies for federal officer removal pursuant to § 1442. The notice of removal states that Parker-Brown is “‘Madam Chairman’ of a civil rights group, LUI/Louisiana United International,” which “has a long history of assisting victims of injustice[.]”23 It also states that she “has acted as agent and liaison between the downtrodden and the executive and judicial branches of the Federal Government in myriad manners, whether it is through facilitating legal representation, aiding in communicating with or otherwise collaborating with law enforcement for people who may be fearful or anxious concerning direct contact with ‘the man’, providing expungement clinics, or other activities.”24 The notice further states that Parker-Brown has engaged in “recent discussions with federal agents from the US DOJ Civil Rights Division program about Predatory Policing[.]”25 Accordingly, defendants argue, “Parker Brown is entitled to remove this case on account of her status as a worker who collaborates with Federal Agents—she is an unofficial agent for official agents and is thus entitled to the protection of removal to Federal Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1442.”26

Defendants do not appear to argue that Parker-Brown is herself a “federal officer.”27 Instead, they seem to claim that she is “acting under” federal officers. 28

U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). The relevant question, then, is whether Parker-Brown is “being sued ‘based upon actions taken pursuant to federal direction.’” Ryan v. Dow Chemical Co., 781 F. Supp. 934, 945 (E.D.N.Y. 1992) (quoting Gulati v. Zuckerman, 723 F. Supp. 353, 358 (E.D. Pa. 1989)); see also Watson v. Philip Morris Cos., Inc., 551 U.S. 142 (2007) (explaining that “acting under” a federal officer “typically includes subjection, guidance, or control”).

Defendants have not shown that their actions were undertaken pursuant to any form of federal control, let alone the type of “direct and detailed control” courts have typically required in this context.

Importantly, “[t]he civil rights removal statute does not require and does not permit the judges of the federal courts to put their brethren of the state judiciary on trial.” Peacock, 384 U.S. at 828. Pursuant to § 1443(1), “the vindication of the defendant’s federal rights is left to the state courts except in the rare situations where it can be clearly predicted by reason of the operation of a pervasive and explicit state or federal law that those rights will inevitably be denied by the very act of bringing the defendant to trial in the state court.”

The Court concludes that defendants have not satisfied the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1455 and that no statutory basis exists for removal. Accordingly,

IT IS ORDERED that the above-captioned matter is summarily REMANDED to the 22nd Judicial District Court for the Parish of St. Tammany pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1446(c).

In light of the Court’s disposition of this case, IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendants’ motion for an “Order to Show Cause to Judge William H. Burris why he should not be declared to have committed criminal contempt of one or more of the removal statutes”31 is DISMISSED AS MOOT.

New Orleans, Louisiana, September 18, 2023.

My dad was always fond of saying, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”  In this matter, it appears he would have to amend that old saying to, “plenty ventured, absolutely nothing gained.”

We’ll follow and report upon whether Parker-Brown may pursue an appeal to the First Circuit Court of Appeals or whether she may opt instead to cut her losses and focus on recruiting other “court watchers” to stand in her place.  That would certainly appear to be by far the cheaper option even as frustrating as it may be for Parker-Brown to have to refrain from attending future Misdemeanor court hearings in 22nd JDC.

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