ByJanuary 27, 2017 at 12:21 PM
The misdemeanor charges filed against the second round of Oregon standoff defendants will be tried before a judge, U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown has ruled.
Since the charges of trespass, tampering with vehicles or equipment and destruction of property are Class B misdemeanors and considered petty offenses, the defendants don't have a right to a jury trial.
Further, the judge cited the "significant uncertainty in the law,'' as to whether she has discretion to permit a jury trial for such offenses.
"Simply put, the Court declines to exercise discretion to take an action when it is not at all clear that the Court has such discretion in the first place,'' Brown wrote in her ruling.
Even if she had the authority to grant a jury trial, Brown said she would not.
"The Court notes Congress explicitly intended the trial of petty offenses to be tried to the court, and expressly permitted magistrate judges to conduct such trials in order to facilitate their efficient resolution without the process associated with a jury trial,'' Brown wrote.
Twenty-six people faced federal conspiracy charges stemming from the 41-day occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Oregon. Bundy and six co-defendants were found not guilty of conspiracy, weapons and other charges after a five-week trial last fall. Eleven others pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge. Prosecutors dismissed charges against another.
The remaining seven are set for trial on Feb. 14, on both felony conspiracy and weapons charges and additional misdemeanor charges, including trespass, tampering with equipment and destruction of property.
Brown said she plans to hear evidence on the misdemeanor charges filed against the seven remaining defendants, as their felony conspiracy and weapons charges also are heard before a jury. If there's any additional evidence needed to be presented on the misdemeanor charges that isn't relevant for the felony charges, the judge will hear that evidence while the jury is deliberating on the felonies, Brown said.
Defense lawyers have indicated that if the misdemeanor charges weren't to be tried before a jury, they'd ask a U.S. magistrate judge instead to hear the misdemeanor charges, since that's the typical procedure for such offenses, said Jesse Merrithew, who represents Jake Ryan.
Brown suggested that would be a waste of resources, and argued that either a district judge or a magistrate judge has authority to hold a bench trial on the misdemeanors.
Defense lawyers may also ask to have another district judge hear the misdemeanor charges instead of Brown, since she presided over the initial trial of Ammon Bundy and six other co-defendants last fall, and has ruled on all pretrial litigation for both trials.
Brown said she doesn't believe that's a basis to preclude her from holding a bench trial on the misdemeanors. However, if defense lawyers seek her recusal, they must file a motion to do so by Jan. 30 and the matter will be referred to Chief Judge Michael W. Mosman.
Defendants and their lawyers are dismayed with the ruling.
Attorney Andrew Kohlmetz, standby lawyer for defendant Jason Patrick, said, "It's very important for Mr. Patrick to have a jury of his peers make those decisions. He's frankly not happy.''
Defense lawyer Matthew McHenry, who represents defendant Sean Anderson, had argued in court papers that a jury verdict that "reflects the judgment of the public and the defendants' peers'' would provide a "more satisfactory and acceptable resolution'' to defendants and the public.
He also had argued that one jury trial would be more efficient, and that prosecutors are trying to avoid a repeat of the across-the-board acquittals in the initial trial last fall.
"Finally, the defendants believe the government's strong desire for a bench trial stems in large part from the jury acquittals in the first trial. The government should not be aided by this Court as it attempts to take this case out of the hands of a jury of the defendants' peers,'' McHenry wrote in a legal memo.
-- Maxine Bernstein