Judge Tosses Federal Case Against Bundys, Bars Retrial

Cliven Bundy walks out of federal court with his wife Carol on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Las Vegas, after a judge dismissed criminal charges against him and his sons accused of leading an armed uprising against federal authorities in 2014. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) – A Nevada federal judge on Monday permanently tossed the case against Cliven Bundy and his sons over their 2014 armed standoff against the government, while in Oregon the attorney who won son Ammon Bundy’s acquittal in the case over the 2016 occupation of a wildlife refuge outmaneuvered efforts to keep him from practicing law.

In Nevada, U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed with prejudice the case against Cliven, Ammon and Ryan Bundy and Ryan Payne over the 2014 standoff with Bureau of Land Management officials who tried to enforce a judicial order to round up Bundy’s cattle after he refused to pay more than $1 million in grazing fees.

Navarro found the prosecution had engaged in a “deliberate attempt to mislead” both her and defense attorneys about evidence detailing FBI threat assessments of the 2014 standoff, and surveillance cameras and snipers that were outside the Bundy ranch just before the standoff.

The dismissal was another stunning blow to prosecutors’ ability to squelch a fringe movement that uses massive armed standoffs to force recognition of their contention that the federal government has no right to own land for any purpose other than narrow military uses.

Monday’s dismissal followed the 2016 acquittal of the Bundy brothers for their participation in a second armed standoff, at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon.

The moments following the jury’s October 2016 announcement of acquittal on conspiracy charges were arguably as explosive as the case itself. Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Marcus Mumford argued vigorously for Bundy’s immediate release despite a custody order to have him transferred to jail in Nevada, where the trial over the 2014 standoff was about to begin.

As Mumford argued vehemently with the judge, half a dozen U.S. Marshals closed in. In a move that other lawyers present that day said they had never seen in a courtroom, the marshals tackled Bundy’s attorney, stunned him with a Taser and arrested him.

Mumford was charged with failure to comply with a federal police officer and impeding government employees. The charges were later dismissed. Then, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman took the rare move of trying to revoke Mumford’s ability to practice law in any federal court in Oregon.

Observers called it a vindictive attempt to punish him for Bundy’s acquittal – one that turned out to be another grenade that detonated in the government’s hand.

On Monday, Mumford sidestepped the effort by agreeing to withdraw from the Bundy case and promising not to seek admission in any other matter in Oregon.  It was a gentleman’s agreement to not practice in Oregon, in exchange for the judge’s promise to refrain from officially barring him from doing so.

U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour told Mumford that informal arrangement was good enough for him.

“That resolves the matter as far as I’m concerned,” the judge said.

Matt Schindler, a federal defense attorney who represented another defendant alongside Mumford in Oregon’s Bundy trial, said the government was trying to scapegoat Mumford for its embarrassing loss of the case against the Bundys.

“If those guys had been convicted, we wouldn’t be here,” Schindler said after the hearing. “The government didn’t get the result that they wanted and so they decided to punish Marcus Mumford.”

Public land advocates worry Monday’s developments will pave the way for increased lawlessness. Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, said the Bundy family had endangered the lives of public servants and should have to face consequences for that.

“Letting the Bundys walk free on a technicality should send a chill down the spines of anyone who values our parks, wildlife refuges, and all public lands,” Rokala said in a statement. “That an extremist like Bundy could blatantly break the law on national television and walk away scot-free will only embolden his followers who’ve threatened the lives and livelihoods of public land managers across the West.”

And Mark Pitcavage, senior research fellow for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, called the outcomes of the Bundy cases “extremely disappointing.”

“We’ve seen surprising acquittals, surprising dismissals, generous plea deals, and in general far lighter consequences than even the defendants would have expected,” Pitcavage said in a phone call. “This certainly has the ability to embolden people in both the militia movement and in the extremist anti-public land movement.”

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