A federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas set a Feb. 6 trial date for rancher Cliven Bundy and 18 other defendants in an armed confrontation with government officers two years ago.
In a written order filed Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen declared the case “complex” for tracking purposes, and agreed that it will take time to prepare for a trial involving 19 defendants, more than 30 government witnesses and an exceptionally large amount of evidence.
Last week, she canceled a May 2 trial date as unrealistic.
Leen’s order came after a scheduling hearing last Friday in Las Vegas that put all 19 defendants and their lawyers in one courtroom for the first time. It could mean many months in jail ahead of trial for each man, although several are challenging and appealing detention orders.
The conspiracy, obstruction, weapon, threats and assault charges could get each the equivalent of life in prison for the tense gunpoint standoff in April 2014 near Bundy’s ranch outside Bunkerville, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.
Leen noted that seven defendants, including Bundy sons Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy, face trial Sept. 7 in federal court in Portland, Oregon. The seven are among 26 people accused of taking part in a 41-day armed occupation of a U.S. wildlife refuge this year.
The Bundy brothers have been returned in custody to Oregon, where Ammon Bundy’s attorneys have filed documents contesting the authority of the federal government to prosecute him for the takeover the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
In an argument echoed by states’ rights advocates, he maintains that the federal government largely lost the right to own land inside Oregon once statehood was achieved.
His father argues in Nevada that the federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over the public land surrounding the Bundy homestead, where family cattle have grazed for decades.
The federal Bureau of Land Management moved to round up cows on the ranch, obtaining court orders with arguments that Bundy racked up more than $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and fines.
SOURCE: The Associated Press, Ken Ritter