A federal judge in Minneapolis reinstated contempt charges Tuesday against a Somali woman who had refused to stand in respect to the court during her trial last year on charges related to terrorism. Then he dropped the jail time he'd imposed.
Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis cited Amina Farah Ali for contempt 20 times when she refused to stand along with others in the court as the judge entered and left the room. He ordered her to serve 100 days in jail -- five days for each time she remained seated after court staff members gave the "all-rise" call.
After the first contempt citation, Ali protested that standing before a judge would violate her interpretation of her Islamic faith. She relented after two days.
In June, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case and directed Davis to reconsider whether there was a less restrictive method than contempt to maintain order. The ruling affected 19 of the contempt charges.
The October trial of Ali and Hawo Mohamed Hassan on charges of raising money for charity and sending some of it to help terrorists in their native Somalia received widespread news coverage and drew intense scrutiny from the Somali community in Minnesota and abroad. Both women were convicted by a jury of providing material support to Al-Shabab, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen told Davis in court Tuesday that he and his fellow prosecutors "racked our brains" to find viable alternatives to contempt but found none.
Dan Scott, Ali's attorney, said his client refused to stand for two days of the trial, yet the proceedings otherwise went smoothly. Hence, he argued, the standing requirement is not necessary to preserve order.
Scott noted that lawyers, marshals and court personnel must follow stricter rules than the public.
"I have to appear in a suit, sports coat and tie, or I can be held in contempt of court," he said. "My clients are often here in blaze orange and flip-flops, and they are not held in contempt of court."
Davis said he believes the appellate court was giving him an opportunity to "supplement the record" about why he found a compelling government interest in having Ali stand upon his entry and exit.
Davis explained the steps he took to meet with Ali and her attorneys about her religious beliefs, discussions that he said led to her changing her mind.
After two days of protest, Davis said that Ali told him at a sidebar meeting that she reconsidered, that she respected him and that she would stand at appropriate times.
Davis said he told her that she should stand out of respect to the court, not just him personally.
He outlined special security measures imposed during the trial to protect the public and tenants of the Minneapolis courthouse. They included additional court security, the posting of signs in the Somali language to avoid misunderstandings and the use of a nearby room for those observing daily Islamic prayers.
"In no way did any of these security measures harm a fair trial we had for this defendant and her co-defendant," Davis said.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493