Judge sets September trial in Oregon refuge standoff case
PORTLAND — The federal judge overseeing Oregon's wildlife refuge standoff case scheduled a September trial on Wednesday and reinforced her decision to send Ammon and Ryan Bundy to Nevada next week for a court appearance.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown made those decisions during a testy hearing in which she repeatedly admonished lawyers for making repetitive points and threatened to remove one of the defendants from the court.
The packed courtroom included a majority of the 26 defendants charged with taking over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days this winter in a protest over land policy. Lawyers for all the defendants were there as well, and their competing interests and schedules add to the complexity of the case the judge must oversee.
Brown scheduled jury selection to begin Sept. 7, despite objections from several attorneys who said that wasn't enough time to prepare and wanted the trial pushed back to 2017. Other lawyers supported the late summer date.
The judge left open the possibility for an eventual delay, but she said the right to a speedy trial is paramount for now. There's also the chance of two different trials, one for defendants who want to go early and one for those who want next year.
Also Wednesday, the judge upheld her decision to have the Bundy brothers and two other defendants flown to Las Vegas next week for a court appearance and then returned to Oregon within 10 days. The men face charges stemming from a 2014 standoff at Cliven Bundy's ranch near Bunkerville, Nevada.
Defense lawyers have said it's improper to make their clients defend two cases at once in different states. They have asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overrule Brown. The appellate court has yet to indicate when it will rule.
Defendant Jason Patrick nearly got tossed from the courtroom after the judge, who had been snapping at lawyers to stay on point, told him to stop talking. "I was just asking if there will be more violent outbursts by the judge," Patrick replied.
Brown ordered courtroom personnel to remove Patrick, but ultimately let him stay.
Later, another defendant, Kenneth Medenbach, who's acting as his own attorney, demanded that Brown prove she took an oath of office, an issue he has raised previously. Brown told him she publicly took the oath in November 1999.
"Why is there no record of it?" a supporter of the occupiers shouted from the gallery.
Brown said she wasn't spending any more time on the issue.
Meanwhile, federal authorities arrested a Montana man accused of taking part in the refuge occupation.
Jake Ryan was booked into a Portland jail Tuesday on charges of depredation of government property, conspiracy to impede officers and possession of weapons in a federal facility.
Ryan was to have a federal public defender assigned to him at his initial court appearance.
Sheriff Tom Rummel of Montana's Sanders County said he believes Ryan's arrest will ease the tension that had been building while FBI agents were in talks with Ryan's family about his whereabouts.
Rummel, worried that a new conflict could emerge in Ryan's hometown between federal agents and supporters of the refuge occupiers, had issued statements warning outsiders to stay away.