Or… Just Lean a Little to My Side
Politics of, and in the Courtroom
by Shari Dovale
This week brought several emotional moments in the Malheur Protest Trial in Portland. Ammon Bundy spent the better part of three days on the stand, completing his testimony on Thursday.
The court attempted to severely limit the evidence presented by the defense, including a video between Ammon and a couple of ranchers. Though Judge Anna Brown has allowed the prosecution leeway to present what they want, she has ruled, repeatedly, that defense evidence is “cumulative” or repetitive. She is tired of seeing pictures and videos of the same offices and places around the refuge.
Ammon Bundy attempted to discuss his conversations with the Hammonds, yet Brown shut that one down as well. Telling him that he could not share the specifics of the conversation, Brown said Bundy could only describe his personal state of mind after the conversation.
“I’d rather not say my state of mind if I’m unable to explain why,” Bundy responded. Brown then told him to be quiet. Marcus Mumford took up the argument with the judge. Waiting until the jury was out of the room, Mumford accused the judge of not allowing key evidence to be presented.
Understandably, Mumford was upset for his client, yet the judge had her own theatrics in claiming that Mumford was threatening her. After the repeated shutting down of the defense, yet allowing the prosecution to grandstand, it is amazing that these defense attorneys have held their cool for this long.
Ammon spent time discussing the lack of response by the elected officials, including the sheriff, county commissioners and the governor, to the people’s questions and concerns. “When elected officials ignore us, what are we to do?” he asked.
Judge Brown has told them that she has heard enough of how the refuge was safe and clean, with the protesters being open and transparent during the occupation. She has told them that they cannot refer to conversations they had with others, including Dwight and Steven Hammond. And, she wont allow them to discuss the FBI being under investigation for lying about the murder of LaVoy Finicum.
The defendants cannot talk about their conversations as it is “hearsay” but there is no way to get some of these people into the courtroom to testify to it themselves. This includes Governor Kate Brown, whom Ryan Bundy has tried to subpoena, yet Judge Brown continues to stop that from happening.
Ammon was able to show video highlights of him teaching the principles of adverse possession. This was important, and powerful enough, that the prosecution now wants Judge Brown to instruct the jury in such a way that they will disregard it. The prosecution cannot refute this through testimony, so they need the judge to play the “I am the only one that understands the law” card and try to shut it down for them.
At one point during Ammon’s testimony, out of sight of the jury, Neil Wampler led other defendants and audience members in a standing ovation for Ammon. “We love you Ammon,” they shouted. This demonstration took Judge Brown by surprise, but was over quickly so she had no comments.
At one point, Ammon was asked to name who attended the meeting at Ye Old Castle restaurant in Burns before the rally on January 2nd. As he named several people, he commented, “I hope I’m not making a list for the government’s next indictments.” This drew laughter from the audience and anger from Judge Brown.
Ethan Knight of the prosecution team threw some rapid-fire questions at Ammon on cross examination. He attempted to distort Ammon’s testimony, however, Ammon held his own very well.
Jeanette Finicum briefly took the stand on Thursday afternoon to discuss when her husband went to the refuge. Not hearing about the rally until January 1st, LaVoy only took a single change of clothes with him, as he did not intend to be there for very long. Describing when he told her that he was going to stay at the refuge, “I repeatedly asked my husband to come home,” she testified.
Judge Brown did not allow any questions to be asked about the day LaVoy was shot and killed. “She [Jeanette] should not be asked about his death, period,” Brown instructed.
Next week will bring several more witnesses, including Sheriff Richard Mack. There have been several points made during the trial about what authority the Constitution gives to the county sheriff. Mack will be here to explain the truth of this. I am sure Judge Brown will not be happy when the law, and the Constitution, get discussed, and she is probably already planning how she intends to shut this testimony down.
Kenneth Medenbach is planning to testify next week, as well as several other witnesses. Judge Brown was not happy to hear that the defense case is not ready to rest, and she makes various comments that might suggest she is encouraging them to do so. However, the defense attorneys, and the defendants, are determined to continue despite Judge Brown’s annoyance.
Judge Brown has found various ways to aid the prosecution, and another way is within the jury instructions. Though the charge “Conspiracy to Impede Officers of the United States” is listed in the beginning, she goes on later to say the charge is to “prevent officers of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and/or Bureau of Land Management from discharging the duties of the office” which is a noticeable difference.
With this change, it seems to me that she has lowered the bar for the prosecution and made it much easier for them. The standard should be higher for the government, but it is not.
She refers to the standard by “In a light most favorable to the government” which, by my layman’s view, is a guilty until proven innocent standard. However, I had a discussion with an attorney in this case and it seems that this is a legal standard that goes to whether or not the government has presented enough evidence to send it to the jury. Though I, among others, do not believe that is the case, it only matters whether or not Judge Brown believes it. Of course she does. She is heavily invested in this verdict.
Additionally, she has stressed to the jury that the conspiracy does not have to actually take place, just that two people discussed it at some point. This sounds an awful lot like the “Thought Police.”
There will be just three days of testimony next week as the court will shut down on Monday for the Columbus Day holiday and Wednesday for the Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur.