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.
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.