Fair treatment looks like bias to those who are accustomed to being shown obsequious deference.
Once again federal lawyers who have been handed a rejection of their legal arguments by a federal judge are claiming that their case was not weak but that the judge is biased.
After having their case summarily thrown out in the 92-year-old lawsuit, U.S. v. Walker River Irrigation District, federal lawyers are asking that the judge in the case be recused, alleging he is biased against the federal government, according to an account in the Mineral County Independent-News. (motion-to-recuse)
The case involves a question of which party has the rights to certain waters in the Walker River basin. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones sided with the irrigation district.
In January, federal lawyers managed to get the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to toss Judge Jones off the 25-year-old land and water rights case involving the Hage ranching family of Nevada by using a bias claim.
A longtime Nevada practitioner before the 9th Circuit said, “The Circuit’s action in Hage was highly unusual. The 9th Circuit often reverses district courts, and occasionally reassigns cases, but it is rare for them to make a finding of actual bias.”
Rare but perhaps not rare enough.
Apparently a judge’s hard-earned, keen-eyed experience constitutes bias to the appellate court. All Judge Jones did was accuse government officials of entering into “a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience …”
He ruled that the government had interfered in the case by urging others to apply for Hage’s grazing permits, by applying themselves for Hage’s water rights and by issuing trespass notices against witnesses soon after they had testified. All in a day’s work for a federal bureaucrat in the eyes of the appellate court?
In the Walker River case the feds found evidence of bias in the fact that Judge Jones had stated, “I believe in constitutional rights. I believe in protecting the rights of the Native Americans and in property rights that have been recognized over time, I believe in that and that’s my agenda.”
Then, according to federal lawyers, there is this damning comment from the judge, “[E]ven though the government in many cases didn’t have the right to insist upon a permit … nevertheless, the government in many cases has insisted upon it. … I don’t like and never have liked the BLM’s or Forest Service’s arrogant presumption that they could assess to people for … trespass, their own travel costs, office costs, sitting in their big chair already paid for by the American taxpayer.”
How dare he show prejudice against bureaucrats hell bent on running rough shod over the rights of the serfs! Who does he think he is, a federal judge?
The prosecutors also took issue with how the judge ruled against them, saying, “In ruling on the motions to dismiss, Judge Jones determined, sua sponte, that all of the water right claims of the United States were barred by res judicata or, in the alternative, laches. Yet, no motion to dismiss was based on either res judicata or laches and the United States never had the opportunity to substantively address the legal and factual merits of any such claims.”
Sua sponte is legalese for acting on his own accord, while res judicata means the matter has already been settled by the courts and laches means time has run out — after only 92 years?
In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that it is a “long-recognized inherent power of Federal District Courts, acting on their own initiative, to dismiss cases that have remained dormant because of the inaction or dilatoriness of the parties …”
Knowing the track record of the uber-liberal 9th Circuit, we suspect Judge Jones will get the boot again and this case will drag on for another century or so, but, if justice is ever to be served, things need to change.
A version of this editorial appeared this 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.