Rancher Cliven Bundy, two of his sons and their 16 co-defendants in the April 2014 armed standoff with federal agents trying to round-up Bundy’s cattle should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but prosecuted under the full constraints of the U.S. Constitution.
This past week U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen set a trial date of Feb. 6 next year before Federal District Court Judge Gloria Navarro for the 19 defendants, all of whom are being held without bail pending that trial. The case was scheduled for trial on May 2.
Judge Leen said it is a complex case and the “ends of justice” outweigh the interest of the public and the defendants in having a speedy trial. At a hearing the 69-year-old Bundy and most other defendants said they wanted to exercise their right to a speedy trial, according to press accounts.
Leen also told prosecutors and defense attorneys to confer to determine whether they could agree on a “stipulated protective order” that would keep secret from the public key evidence.
U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden promptly filed a motion seeking sweeping secrecy in order to “protect victims, witnesses, law enforcement officers, and agent/investigators associated with this case from threats, intimidation, and harassment from supporters of the Bundy defendants.” The bulk of his argument is that some unnamed people have posted strong language on the Internet. (motion for protective order)
As Claude Rains said in “Casablanca,” we are shocked — shocked — to find strong language on the Internet.
The defendants face felony charges that include conspiracy, obstruction, extortion and assault, which carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison.
Prosecutors have had two years to prepare their case for trial, why should it take another year and a shroud of secrecy?
The Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury … and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”
Keeping the defendants in prison for a year without the benefit of a conviction is hardly a speedy trial, nor does keeping evidence a secret constitute a public trial.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal, Battle Born Media and The Associated Press filed a legal challenge this past week to the proposed protective order to keep evidence secret — a move reminiscent of the British Star Chamber the Founders found so repugnant. (BUNDY RJBBMAP secrecy)
The motion by attorney Maggie McLetchie says “the government’s protective order thwarts the public’s right to information about this case by depriving it of access to all documents produced by the government. Moreover, in its hubris, the government has failed to provide any good cause to do so.”
The attorney offered that, if prosecutors can confirm their “concerns for witness safety and security,” perhaps names and identifying information could be redacted but not the entire evidence.
Yes, Bundy and his followers in all likelihood broke numerous laws, but that is for a jury to decide in a speedy and public trial.
The government has had enough time to prepare its case and call its witnesses. Perhaps, May 2 was too soon since none of the attorneys for the defendants have yet been given the evidence and the names of witnesses who they must confront at trial, but that preparation should not take a year — especially since all of their clients are being held without bail.
The government should not be able to have it both ways — getting a lengthy delay while keeping not-yet-convicted suspects jailed and unable to provide for their families.
The Bureau of Land Management leaders were embarrassed when their army of heavily armed agents descended upon the ranch only to face a couple hundred armed civilians and have to back down to avoid bloodshed.
The BLM bungled the round-up effort, but no one at the agency has yet been reviewed or held accountable for that.
The delay and the secrecy make this case look more like revenge than justice.
A version of this editorial appears this past week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.