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Judge rejects government bid to reopen activist rancher case

July 7, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 8, 2018 file photo, Cliven Bundy walks out of federal court with his wife Carol in Las Vegas. A lawyer for the Nevada rancher and states' rights activist is hailing as "the final nail in the coffin" a judge's decision not to let federal prosecutors reopen the criminal case stemming from a 2014 armed standoff with government agents. Attorney Bret Whipple on Friday, July 6, 2018 characterized his 72-year-old client as relieved following Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro's ruling this week that prosecutors' "flagrant misconduct' irreparably tainted the case. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A judge’s decision not to let federal prosecutors reopen the criminal case against Cliven Bundy, his sons and supporters in a 2014 armed standoff with government agents could amount to the final act in the case, a lawyer for the Nevada rancher and states’ rights activist said Friday.

“It’s the final nail in the coffin, and completely expected,” attorney Bret Whipple said of the ruling in the criminal case that was filed in 2016 against 19 defendants and collapsed last December in a mistrial due to “flagrant misconduct” by prosecutors.

Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro said again in a filing Tuesday that prosecutors “willfully” failed to disclose to defense lawyers evidence that government agents provoked the Bundy family into calling supporters to their defense by acts “such as the insertion and positioning of snipers and cameras surveilling the Bundy home.”

Navarro said she found no reason to reconsider her dismissal of charges in January against Bundy, sons Ryan and Ammon Bundy and Montana militia leader Ryan Payne.

Whipple characterized Bundy, now 72, as relieved that the judge rejected Acting U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson’s argument that individual counts could have been dismissed rather than the entire case, and that scuttling the case set a dangerous precedent by encouraging the public to disrespect public lands law enforcement officers.

“On the contrary,” the judge wrote, “a universal sense of justice was violated by the government’s failure to provide evidence that is potentially exculpatory.”

It was not immediately clear if Elieson would appeal Navarro’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Trisha Young, spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, declined Friday to comment.

Whipple called Navarro’s 11-page order, issued Tuesday, “a direct rebuke to the federal government, the Bureau of Land Management and the different prosecuting agencies.”

“I see a message and irony that it was released near Independence Day about freedom from federal overreach,” the attorney said.

The criminal case stemmed from a standoff in April 2014 involving hundreds of protesters and armed Bundy family supporters facing off against federal Bureau of Land Management agents and contract cowboys enforcing court orders to round up Bundy cattle.

The Bunkerville rancher refused for decades to pay government grazing fees for his cows on federal land in what is now Gold Butte National Monument, about 80 miles (129 kilometers) northeast of Las Vegas. He maintains that the federal government has no authority over state lands.

Gunfire was averted when a small band of outnumbered Bureau of Land Management agents gave up and let cattle that had been collected be returned to Bundy.

Most of the 19 defendants from 11 states spent nearly two years in federal custody awaiting trial on charges including conspiracy, threatening and assaulting federal officers, firearm offenses, obstruction and extortion.

Five pleaded guilty before trial, several were acquitted of all counts and some were convicted of lesser charges. Two are currently in prison and six are due for sentencing in coming weeks. Some sentences Navarro has imposed since the mistrial have been for time already served.

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