Federal judge determines federal land stewards acted in contempt of court

A federal judge has essentially fired a Bureau of Land Management district manager for contempt of court and also found a Forest Service ranger in contempt, according to a press release sent out by Range Magazine.

The contempt case grew out of a decades-long legal battle between the late-rancher E. Wayne Hage and his estate and the federal agencies that control federal public land in the Tonopah area.

Wayne Hage in 1997 photo near where federal agents seized 100 head of his cattle in 1991, in Meadow Canyon near Tonopah. (Mark Waite photo for the Elko Daily Free Press)

This past week U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones found Tonopah BLM manager Tom Seley and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Service ranger Steve Williams in contempt for witness intimidation and attempts to circumvent the jurisdiction of the court over issues of grazing and water rights that were being litigated in federal court. The judge said there was “intent to deprive this court of jurisdiction by intimidation of witnesses and threats against witnesses.”

Judge Jones ordered from the bench, “Mr. Seley can no longer be an administrator in this BLM district. I don’t trust him to be unbiased. Nor can he supervise anybody in this district.”

The contempt case was the second court ruling to be reported in a week in this dispute. Earlier The Associated Press reported what it called a defeat for the Hage family in an earlier unnoticed July ruling by a three-judge panel of the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., which remanded to the lower courts a $4.4 million damage judgment for the Hages. Jones noted the court did not rule the federal agencies acted properly in handling of the Hages property rights, but that not all of the bureaucratic procedures had been allowed to run their course and thus the case was not yet “ripe,” a word the circuit court used almost a dozen times.

In the judge’s comments on his contempt ruling, he said Seley and Williams tried to find remedies that were in the jurisdiction of the court and used inappropriate means to do so. He said the two issued trespass notices and demands for payments.

The judge assessed damages of $33,000 to cover losses to the Hages and others. Seley and Williams could be held personally liable should their agencies not make the payments.

According to Range magazine, Jones also ordered the Hage heirs to reapply for a grazing permit and ordered the federal government to immediately issue permits to the Hages for the winter grazing season on a particular allotment.

Though the judge kicked Seley out of his Tonopah area job, I’ll take bets on whether the BLM simply moves him elsewhere, possibly with a promotion and a pay raise for doing what his bosses directed him to do.

9 comments on “Federal judge determines federal land stewards acted in contempt of court

  1. Athos says:

    Oh, I don’t know, Tom. Larry Potts had to have people murdered to get his promotion from the FBI. These tyrants may have caused him heart problems, but no tanks, loud music or siege mentality, right?

  2. Steve says:

    If I am reading this right, the 4.4 mil is still a possibility but sent back to lower courts because they didn’t get it right, but Jones added a bit of money to the possible damages AND added some personal responsibility to the bureaucrats behind this stupidity. Then made it a legal right for the heirs of Wayne Hage to re-rent those grazing rights.

    Does this mean the feds could wipe the 4.5 million dollars away and leave the Hages with a governmental “were sorry here’s your rights back, now pay for the court costs and get out!”?

  3. Yes, siege mentality, Athos, perhaps no tanks and loud “music.”

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  4. re “Though the judge kicked Seley out of his Tonopah area job, I’ll take bets on whether the BLM simply moves him elsewhere, possibly with a promotion and a pay raise for doing what his bosses directed him to do.” When the court finds that a guvmint employee has committed a crime they should be fired and loose their retirement. After all its the tax payer that supports the agency…they are not elected and should be removed for aggregious actions.

  5. That sounds reasonable to me, Ms. Hayden, but the bureaucrats protect each other.

  6. nyp10025 says:

    Seems to me you buried the lede. The Court of Appeals reversed the multi-million damages judgment, rejected the Takings arguments, and tossed the case. That is what is significant here.

  7. Read it, Petey, they did not toss the case. They remanded it as not yet ripe.

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  8. nyp10025 says:

    I read it. Good luck with that.

  9. […] Jones ordered from the bench, “Mr. Seley can no longer be an administrator in this BLM district. I don’t trust him to be […]

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