Judge rules evidence in rancher standoff should be concealed from public

by WorldTribune Staff, July 19, 2016

A federal judge has blocked lawyers for the 19 defendants in the Nevada rancher standoff case from publicly disclosing evidence.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said the media and the public do not have a “common law or First Amendment right” to access pretrial evidence obtained by the government.

Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle that were seized from rancher Cliven Bundy are being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada April 12, 2014. /Reuters
Protesters gather at the Bureau of Land Management’s base camp near Bunkerville, Nevada on April 12, 2014. /Reuters

The order by Leen prohibits defense teams from disclosing grand jury transcripts, FBI and police reports, witness statements and other documents the government collected during its investigation into the 2014 armed standoff between the family of Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and law enforcement.

The judge wrote that the government was within its constitutional authority to obtain a protective order from her because of security concerns in the case, including what the judge alleged was a death threat against the prosecutors.

“The government has made a sufficient threshold showing of actual and potential threats, intimidation and harassment to victims, witnesses and law enforcement officers to show good cause for a protective order restricting dissemination of pretrial discovery,” Leen wrote.

Leen said all materials the government obtained through “open sources,” during its investigation, including statements made by the defendants on the internet or social media, will not be covered under the protective order and can remain public.

Attorney Maggie McLetchie — who represents the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Battle Born Media and The Associated Press — said she was disappointed with the judge’s decision.

“From the media’s perspective, the order still cloaks much of the information about this case in secrecy despite the heightened need for transparency the judge recognized when allowing the media to intervene,” McLetchie said. “It is deeply troubling that so many documents will be automatically hidden from public view.”

Ammon Bundy’s lawyer, Dan Hill, shared that opinion: “It”s unfortunate that so much information is going to be kept from the public in this case,” he said. “Ammon Bundy has never hidden anything and now the government wants to prosecute him in secret.

“I will continue to fight for justice in this case despite the government’s effort to keep information hidden.”

Chris Rasmussen, the lawyer for defendant Pete Santilli, said he will appeal Leen’s decision.

“He wants this trial to be open to the public, and he wants the public to see all of the evidence so that he can prove his innocence,” Rasmussen said.

The 19 defendants, who are in federal custody, are charged with conspiring to assault Bureau of Land Management agents on April 12, 2014, and take back impounded Bundy cattle that had been grazing on federal land. They are to stand trial on Feb. 6 before Chief U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro.