In one of their final appearances before next month’s trial begins, defendants accused of conspiring to occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge were again in a federal courtroom in Portland Wednesday. Attorneys discussed jury selection and evidence.
U.S. District Court Judge Anna Brown outlined some aspects of jury selection, which is scheduled to begin Sept. 7 and last three days. Brown anticipated calling jurors in five groups of 30.
Brown said she alone would be asking questions of potential jurors and asked that prosecutors and defense attorneys give her their questions. She also said the parties would receive the names and other personal information for jurors so they could conduct the research, but Brown stressed that beyond that the identities of potential jurors must remain private.
Brown also scheduled opening statements for Sept. 13. Assistant U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Barrow, who will be making opening statements on behalf of the government, said he would need less than an hour.
At this point, eight defendants are scheduled to go to trial next month: Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Neil Wampler, Shawna Cox, Pete Santilli, David Fry, Jeff Banta and Kenneth Medenbach.
Cox and Ryan Bundy are representing themselves. In court Wednesday, Medenbach entered a “hybrid” representation agreement with his court-appointed attorney, Matthew Schindler, meaning they’ll share defense responsibilities.
Ongoing coverage of the federal case against the people involved in the 41-day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and how life has changed in Harney County, Oregon.
Several other defendants have pleaded guilty or are scheduled to go to trial in February.
Brown tried to address the complexity of a trial with so many defendants, including some representing themselves. She said defendants should elect one lawyer, ideally one who has gone to law school, as the primary defense attorney. Brown said that would avoid duplicate cross-examinations and maintain a clear focus.
That way, the court doesn’t “have to plow that field eight times,” Brown said. “I’m just not going to let you do that.”
Up until now, defense attorneys have shared in various responsibilities, including arguing motions on behalf of all defendants.
Attorney Amy Baggio’s client, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges earlier this week. Baggio has been one of the leaders in defense strategy and some noted her absence in court Wednesday.
“Ms. Baggio has been driving the bus,” Schindler told Brown.
“Don’t tell me your bus has no driver,” Brown said.
“Oh, our bus definitely has no driver,” Schindler replied.
Just then attorney Tiffany Harris, standby counsel for Cox, stood up and addressed the court.
“I motion to bring back Ms. Baggio to drive the bus,” Harris said.
“I think she’d object,” Brown said, amid laughter in the courtroom.
Last week, prosecutors filed a list of evidence they want to include in the September trial.
On Aug. 22, defense attorneys will argue as many as eight or more motions to exclude as much of that evidence as possible from trial.