U.S. District Judge Anna Brown is preparing for the trial of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers to last a long time, possibly months.
Speaking during a pre-trial status hearing Wednesday in Portland, Brown said she still wanted the trial of Ammon Bundy and the other occupiers to begin Sept. 7. But she also discussed how the court would manage breaks for holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, if necessary.
“Heaven forbid we’re still doing this then,” Brown said.
Wednesday’s hearing covered a range of topics, including jury selection and where the trial would be held.
Brown said jury selection would likely draw on a pool of 1,500 people, although where those people would come from hasn’t yet been decided.
The selection could be limited to the Northwest section of the state, which includes both Portland and rural areas. But defense attorneys argued they’d like to see jury members drawn from more rural parts of the state, such as the Pendleton court district. Brown said she was open to the idea of a proportionally drawn pool.
Summons for jurors could go out as early as next month.
Defense attorneys also said they’d like to commission studies to look at how media coverage throughout the occupation may have affected the viewpoints of possible jurors. Lawyers said they’d use the nearly $130,000 studies to determine if they’d get a fair trial in Oregon.
If commissioned, the polls could take up to 150 days, which means they’d finish at or near the scheduled September trial date.
Attorneys also discussed the idea of allowing a half-dozen defendants who have already been released from custody to sever their cases from those of Bundy and other leaders of the occupation. That would allow those defendants to have a different trial date.
For occupiers Ryan Bundy and Kenneth Medenbach, who are representing themselves in the case, the hearing was another chance to raise their concerns about their ability to prepare an adequate defense while they are incarcerated.
The men complained they can only access the jail’s law library for six hours a day, and said they don’t have adequate writing materials to work on their cases.
“I’m not able to change all of the jail’s rules, nor am I trying to do so,” said Brown. But she indicated she’d try to create a dialogue with the jail that could improve case work conditions for Bundy and Medenbach.
Despite those complaints, occupiers Jason Patrick and Duane Ehmer expressed interest in representing themselves in the case, too.
Wednesday’s hearing also had its share of unusual moments.
Before the hearing began, some of the defendants gathered in the court room, bowed their heads and recited the Lord’s Prayer.
Ammon Bundy’s lead attorney, Mike Arnold, also complained that his client and Ryan Bundy appeared “thin and emaciated” after a recent trip to the Nevada district court, where they face charges for a 2014 standoff. Arnold said the men should get more “rations” in jail.
“I don’t know what you mean by rations,” said Brown, before stating she’d ask the jail to look into the issue.
Later in the hearing, defendant Jason Patrick complained to Brown that a U.S. marshal threatened him and his mother while he was in custody.
“I’ve never had a complaint like that before,” Brown said, before saying she’d pass Patrick’s complaint on to the head of the U.S. Marshal Service for review.