U.S. sidelined judge who ruled for key rancher against Feds, rejected same-sex marriage

Special to WorldTribune.com

The U.S. government has downgraded a judge who had ruled in favor of a Nevada rancher and against the Feds.

Reno judge Robert Clive Jones, appointed by President George W. Bush in 2003, has repeatedly clashed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals not only on the rancher case but on the gay marriage issue.

Judge Robert Clive Jones
Judge Robert Clive Jones

Jones is being relegated to what is called “senior status,” making him a part-time judge.

In a decades-long dispute between the government and the E. Wayne Hage family’s Pine Creek Ranch near Tonopah, Jones had ruled in favor of the rancher.

The case is well known in the West among property rights advocates who charge the government “exercises a heavy hand” in relations with those who make their livelihood off the land, a report in the Las Vegas Review-Journal said.

At issue was whether Hage, who is now deceased, and his son, Wayne Hage, who is currently defending the case, had grazed cattle on federal land without authorization.

Jones ruled in favor of the Hages and the appeals court overturned the decision, citing Jones’s bias.

“Defendants openly trespassed on federal lands. Rather than simply resolving the fact-specific inquiries as to when and where the cattle grazed illegally, the district court applied an ‘easement by necessity’ theory that plainly contravenes the law,” the 9th Circuit panel wrote in an opinion authored by Judge Susan Graber.

“The district court also encouraged defendants to file a counterclaim that was clearly time-barred. … Moreover, as discussed more fully in a separate disposition filed today, the court grossly abused the power of contempt by holding two federal agency officials in contempt of court for taking ordinary, lawful actions that had no effect whatsoever on this case.”

The defendants argued that, because they had water rights, a necessary easement over federal lands to get their cattle to the water was implied.

In a separate opinion that is not published, the appeals court reversed contempt citations Jones made against the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service employees, the Review-Journal reported.

Hage said the 9th Circuit ruling “is a big disappointment, not just for my family but for the entire industry. They felt relief at the Jones decision. Ranchers’ rights had been upheld, but now it has all been overturned. It looks to me like the 9th Circuit just swelled the ranks of the militias.”

On April 19, Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro in Nevada assigned the Hage case to herself.

Several of Jones’s other high-profile decisions in recent years have been overturned by the 9th Circuit. His rejection of same-sex marriage in Nevada in 2012 was reversed in 2014, as was his 2012 effort to pull “None of These Candidates” off Nevada ballots.

Jones also was overturned in September 2015 when the 9th Circuit revived a lawsuit against the Nevada Health and Human Services Department over the issue of disenfranchising potential low-income and disabled voters.

The full-time position Jones is vacating will be filled by presidential appointment, according to Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. A nominee likely won’t be confirmed by the U.S. Senate until 2017 because of the election year, Tobias said.

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