United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION ON CIVIL AND CRIMINAL
J. JONKER CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
service, whether on a petit or grand jury, is both an
obligation and an opportunity. It is an obligation in the
sense that all citizens called to serve must interrupt their
normal lives for a time, go to court, and fill a vital role
in the justice system. But it is also an opportunity to
continue a tradition of democratic input from citizens to
their government and, for those summoned, an opportunity to
learn more about that government. In the Spring of 2017, this
burden and privilege fell on Ms. Brittney Rennaker when she
was called to serve as a grand juror in this district. Ms.
Rennaker failed to participate in the process, however, and
in doing so has persisted in deliberately violating several
court orders. Therefore, for the reasons detailed below, Ms.
Rennaker is in both civil and criminal contempt of court and
will be imprisoned for a period of thirty days for such
First Show Cause Order
Rennaker was selected to serve on Grand Jury 17-2 in February
2017. She appeared for the first session of the grand jury in
March of that year but not thereafter. When contacted by the
Court's jury administrator after missing these sessions
Ms. Rennaker offered several excuses for her absences,
including having been mistaken about the dates the grand jury
was to meet, and needing to care for a sick child. Then, when
Ms. Rennaker failed to appear for yet another session, Ms.
Rennaker simply stopped responding to inquiries from the
Court. Accordingly, the Court issued its First Show Cause
Order that required Ms. Rennaker to appear in open court to
explain her absences from the Grand Jury. (ECF No. 1). Ms.
Rennaker then appeared at the July 10, 2017, Show Cause
hearing where she explained that she was confused about the
Grand Jury's schedule. The Court subsequently ordered Ms.
Rennaker to appear for all future scheduled Grand Jury 17-2
sessions and gave her a schedule of those sessions to prevent
any further confusion. The Court's order also stated that
Ms. Rennaker would only be permitted to be absent from a
session with the advanced written permission of the
Court's authorized representative. (ECF No. 4). The Court
warned Ms. Rennaker that her failure to abide by the terms of
the Order could lead the Court to find her in contempt of
court with sanctions that could include imprisonment.
Second Show Cause Order
the July 10th hearing, Ms. Rennaker attended some Grand Jury
17-2 sessions, but then was absent from multiple Grand Jury
17-2 sessions in September and October of 2017. Ms. Rennaker
did not receive advanced written permission to be excused
from those sessions. The foreperson of the Grand Jury also
requested that Ms. Rennaker be excused from the Grand Jury so
that a more reliable alternate juror could be substituted.
The Court issued a Second Show Cause Order to Ms. Rennaker on
October 4, 2017. (ECF No. 5). The Order required Ms. Rennaker
to again appear personally in open court to explain why she
should not be found in contempt of court and sanctioned for
missing Grand Jury 17-2 sessions without advanced written
permission. (ECF No. 5). The Court also granted the request
that Ms. Rennaker be relieved of her service as a grand
juror, and directed that an alternate be summoned.
Rennaker appeared at the Second Show Cause hearing on
November 7, 2017. After hearing from Ms. Rennaker the Court
was satisfied that civil contempt sanctions were warranted,
but gave Ms. Rennaker an opportunity to avoid imprisonment.
Specifically, the Court structured a community service
protocol to substitute for the Grand Jury service that Ms.
Rennaker would have otherwise provided. Ms. Rennaker was
ordered to serve a total of 90 hours of community service by
July 31, 2018, which amounted to five hours for each of the
18 days the Court understood remained on the Grand Jury's
schedule. (ECF No. 7). Ms. Rennaker was required to
report to the Probation Office closest to her home to satisfy
Court's Order also explained that Ms. Rennaker owed the
time she was obligated to serve on the Grand Jury, either on
community service, or in custody, as she chose. Cf. In re
Schramm, 432 F.Supp.2d 711 (E.D. Mich. 2006). Thus for
every five hours of service Ms. Rennaker failed to complete
by July 31, 2018, she would be required to serve one day in
the custody of the United States Marshals. (Id.).
Third Show Cause Order
it appeared that Ms. Rennaker was fulfilling her community
service obligations. The probation officer received reports
from Ms. Rennaker that she was performing community service
at the Battle Creek Friends Church. She gave the probation
officer a name (Alicia) and a phone number to verify her
service. Ms. Rennaker reported performing 12 hours of service
in November and another 15 in December and January. The
probation officer confirmed these hours with
"Alicia" at the number Ms. Rennaker provided.
February 2018, Ms. Rennaker did not report to the probation
officer as scheduled. When the officer contacted Ms. Rennaker
by phone for an explanation Ms. Rennaker told the officer
that she was sick with the flu, but that she had worked
another seven or nine hours since her last report. Ms.
Rennaker promised to fax documents to the officer that would
confirm this work, but Ms. Rennaker did not do so. When the
probation officer contacted Ms. Rennaker again, Ms. Rennaker
failed to respond. In fact, Ms. Rennaker failed to respond to
five separate follow up calls from the officer on four
separate days and, at least once, the phone was answered but
then was hung up after the officer identified herself. The
probation officer next decided to contact "Alicia"
but discovered the number was disconnected. The officer then
found the Battle Creek Friends Church number in a public
directory, and learned from the church's HR director that
there was no "Alicia" at the church, and
furthermore that there was no Brittney Rennaker who was
performing community service at or for the church.
Court issued a Third Show Cause Order on March 5, 2018.
(ECFNo. 10). In the Order, the Court set out the information
relayed from the probation officer and indicated that the
most natural conclusion from these facts was that Ms.
Rennaker had lied to the probation officer and was not
complying with the community service alternative to custody.
The Court's Show Cause Order stated that, if true, this
conduct exposed Ms. Rennaker to criminal liability, whether
by criminal contempt or otherwise, with the possibility of
punitive imprisonment. Because of the criminal exposure, the
Court appointed Ms. Rennaker counsel for the show cause
Rennaker's appointed counsel requested a continuance, and
the Show Cause hearing was adjourned until April 13, 2018. At
that hearing, Ms. Rennaker appeared with her appointed
counsel and admitted under oath that she had not performed
any community service. Ms. Rennaker testified she panicked
after the Second Show Cause hearing and that she followed
some "bad advice" from her friend Alicia. Namely,
Ms. Rennaker stated that Alicia told her to provide the
probation officer with Alicia's name, and that Alicia
would tell the officer that Ms. Rennaker was working at the
Battle Creek Friends Church. Ms. Rennaker would then provide
false information to the ...