Oregon Refuge Occupiers Balk at Trial Date

     PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — A federal judge seemed inclined to begin the trial of Ammon Bundy and his 25 co-defendants in September, despite several who say that’s too soon and that a liberal Portland jury won’t give them a fair trial.
     Wednesday’s hearing leading up to the trial of the 26 defendants charged in the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge began on an odd note, with U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown admonishing the courtroom to keep it down.
     “Everyone must remain quiet,” Brown said. “Remain quiet.”
     A giddy atmosphere prevailed despite the seriousness of the charges, which carry a maximum of life in prison for the nine defendants charged with carrying a gun in relation to a crime of violence.
     Before Brown entered the courtroom, defendant Jason Patrick began a loud recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. One by one the other 15 defendants present joined in, along with a handful of their lawyers. Defendants Shawna Cox and Peter Santilli attended the hearing by phone and the nine others waived their right to attend.
     At the end of the prayer, Patrick said, “That wasn’t even a conspiracy. That was just the right people at the right time.”
     Moments later, a court clerk got Shawna Cox on speaker phone.
     “Whatcha doin’?” Patrick said into his microphone once the connection was established.
     “Just hanging out,” Cox replied. “Waiting for you guys to decide what you’re doing.”
     To which Patrick said, “Don’t hold your breath. All we’re doing here is the big government magic show. Abracadabra!”
     Then John Ritzheimer spoke up.
     “I want to remind the court that this is Holocaust Remembrance Day and hopefully we don’t go down that same path here.”
     Ritzheimer, who spearheaded anti-Muslim rallies before joining the refuge occupation, was dressed Wednesday in a crisp white button-down shirt emblazoned with the words “We the People.”
     Mike Arnold, attorney for Ammon Bundy, told the judge he didn’t think the Bundy brothers were getting enough to eat in the Multnomah County Jail.
     “They look thin and emaciated,” Arnold said. “They look different.”
     He asked for an increase in their “rations.”
     One major sticking point is the start date for the trial, currently set to begin Sept. 7 and possibly dragging on into 2017.
     Early on, prosecutors urged Brown to declare the case complex, thereby discarding the requirement to adhere to rules under the Speedy Trial Act requiring the trial to start 90 days after the defendants were indicted.
     Brown did that. Now, some defendants say September is too soon to begin.
     But Brown reaffirmed her commitment to start then.
     “We have to stick to that date,” Brown said. “Those in custody have to have those charges adjudicated against them. I just think that’s a fundamentally fair approach.”
     Also at issue is the jury pool. Brown said she plans to subpoena 1,500 jurors to begin the selection process.
     Ryan Bundy, who is representing himself, told Brown that the jurors should come from the rural southeast part of the state, where the refuge is.
     Brown said she was open to drawing jurors proportionally from all four divisions in the District of Oregon that have jury pools. Pendleton, the fourth division and the one that includes Harney County where the refuge sits, has federal jury pool of 1,000.
     And Andrew Kohlmetz, attorney for Jason Patrick, said he planned to request $130,000 in funding for a study on whether media coverage of the occupation would prejudice potential jurors.
     “For 41 days, during and even before the protest, they were livestreaming coverage that I expect the government sees as an ongoing confession,” Kohlmetz said.
     Brown warned that she would probably deny that funding, saying the best way to ensure a fair jury is to meet jurors face-to-face and ask tough questions.
     And she questioned the assumption that juries from the Portland pool skew liberal. The Portland division includes the biggest city in the state, but it also stretches from the Oregon coast over the Cascade Mountains to the Hood River — a huge swath of rural land.
     Brown called the chance of jury prejudice “balanced” between liberal and conservative bias.
     “The argument that Portland jurors are all liberal is purely speculative,” Brown said. “This division includes the entire upper western quadrant of Oregon. Lawyers repeatedly say jurors are more conservative here than they expected. And I have seen that. Particularly on Mr. Bundy’s points.”
     Midway through the hearing, marshals escorted defendant Blaine Cooper from the courtroom. His lawyer explained that he was having chest pains. Thirty minutes later, Cooper returned to his seat, seemingly improved.
     Kenneth Medenbach, who is representing himself and was convicted by a federal jury in Eugene last month in a separate case of illegally building and occupying a cabin on a federal road in Oregon, raised his perennial concern at every hearing so far: that Brown is not a real judge.
     Medenbach said the Constitution prevents a federal judge from taking a second oath of office.
     Once again, Brown listened patiently to Medenbach’s argument.
     “Thank you,” she said when he was finished. “Your objections are noted for the record.”
     Attorney Mike Arnold stood.
     “Addressing Mr. Medenbach’s concerns, I would have no problem with you renewing your vows,” Arnold said.
     “Mr. Arnold, please take a seat,” Brown said.
     At the end of the hearing, Patrick told Brown that a U.S. Marshal had threatened to hurt his mother.
     Patrick said a marshal had approached his mother at the end of an April 6 hearing and asked who she was. Then, the marshal escorting Patrick in an elevator back to his cell threatened to harm her, Patrick claimed.
     “Intimidation and threats is what is being claimed against us,” Patrick told Brown. “But they’re being perpetrated in this courtroom and there’s no recourse.”
     Brown rested her chin on her hand and silently considered Patrick’s statement.
     “I’m not sure what to say,” she finally said. “I’ve never had a complaint like that. But I will have your remarks transcribed and refer them to the head U.S. Marshal himself.”
     Arnold then stood.
     “I saw marshals following people after that hearing,” he said. “One followed me when I met at Starbucks with someone afterward.”
     “Mr. Arnold,” Brown said. “We both know that there are security issues here. The judiciary has already received numerous threats, so how they do their job is up to them.”

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