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Tacoma judge blocks out Homeland Security agents

Gene Johnson Associated Press

SEATTLE – A Tacoma city judge on Thursday refused to let Homeland Security agents remove a defendant from his courtroom. Instead, Judge David Ladenburg had the man taken into custody by Pierce County sheriff’s deputies.

Ladenburg was presiding over the trial of Christophe Bianchi, 37, when two federal agents arrived and said they planned to take the man into custody, Bianchi’s lawyers told the Associated Press on Thursday night.

Bianchi, a French citizen with permanent legal resident status in the United States, had been charged with violating a no-contact order.

During a discussion in chambers, the agents – a man and a woman – told Ladenburg they did not have a court order or warrant for Bianchi but that their superiors had told them to come and pick him up, said the lawyers, Kurt Bennett and Todd DeVallance.

The agents declined to say why they wanted the defendant and Ladenburg refused to grant their request.

“The feds were of the opinion that, well, that’s fine, we can just stand outside and take him into custody when he leaves,” DeVallance said. Bianchi had been free on $3,000 bail, but the judge increased that to $5,000, requiring him to be taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies and to spend the night in jail – ensuring he would appear todayJudg for closing arguments in his trial.

DeVallance said that while the discussion between the judge and the agents was polite, “there was a bit of a power struggle over who had jurisdiction.”

Reached by telephone Thursday night, the judge confirmed Homeland Security agents had been in his courtroom but he declined to comment further because the case was pending.

Bianchi’s estranged wife had taken out a no-contact order against him. According to his lawyers, he was accused of violating that order last December by asking a neighbor to ask the wife for computer cables that were in the house and also by sending his wife a card.

Bianchi actually faced two trials – one for each alleged incident. The first trial was Wednesday and the second began Thursday – before different juries but the same judge. The jury in the first trial returned a guilty verdict on Thursday about three hours before the agents arrived.

Violating a no-contact order is a deportable offense but Bianchi’s lawyers didn’t understand why agents would take an interest in the case before Bianchi was sentenced and while the conviction could still be appealed.

Michael Milne, a Homeland Security spokesman in Seattle, confirmed that two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement were in court to initiate deportation proceedings in case Bianchi was released Thursday.

“They were there to protect the federal interest in the case but it would come after the completion of any state or local case,” Milne said.

“Part of the overall ICE enforcement strategy is to remove people who have domestic violence or any kind of crimes,” he said.

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