U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann of South Dakota levied criminal contempt charges against three senior federal law enforcement officials on Monday over an ongoing feud over his insistence that he must know whether law enforcement officials guarding his courtroom have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
As The Washington Post reports, the charges stemmed from an incident last month in which Kornmann asked a deputy marshal whether she had been vaccinated. When she refused to answer, Kornmann ordered her out of his courtroom.
The marshals who were present then took three of the defendants scheduled for hearings that day out of the courthouse in what Kornmann described as a "kidnapping" that disrupted the court's work.
Kornmann spent nearly an hour tearing into the U.S. Marshals Service for the marshals' actions in response to his question.
“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.”
Kornmann noted that he had made his concerns known in writing well before the confrontation last month and questioned whether the "kidnapping" had been planned beforehand, the Post reports.
“I had always thought that the principal responsibilities of the Marshals Service was the protection of the federal judiciary,” he wrote in a letter to federal officials in March. “As it stands now, they could well be the most dangerous people in the courtroom.”
The Post notes that Congress gives marshals the legal authority to make security decisions when it comes to the federal judiciary, but they typically defer to the judge's decisions.
“Each of you is charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, contempt of court,” Kornmann told the marshals.
A trial date has been set for Sep. 13, with Kornmann requesting the U.S. attorney’s office prosecute the case against them.