Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Hage ranchers again plan Supreme Court appeal


It is like fighting the Hydra, cut off one head and two grow back.

But the federal government is no myth. It is immortal. It has the power to print money and hire an army of attorneys whose job security depends on ceaseless litigation with no risk to themselves or their livelihoods.

The first generation of Hage family ranchers has died off while fighting in the courts for their rights, but the current generation vows to press on to the U.S. Supreme Court.

...The latest litigation setback came in January when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed out a Nevada federal judge’s ruling in their favor. In a 104-page opinion Judge Robert Jones accused government officials of entering into “a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive the Hages not only of their permits but also of their vested water rights. This behavior shocks the conscience …”

The appeals court accused Judge Jones of being biased against the federal land agents and took him off the case, even though Judge Smith had reached similar conclusions about the conduct of the federal agents, calling their behavior harassment and hostility.

“First, Plaintiffs had a significant investment-backed expectation in the ditches, as these were the primary means for conveyance of water for irrigating the Ranch. The ditches were rights purchased along with the Ranch,” Judge Smith wrote. “Second, Plaintiffs offered ample evidence that the Forest Service had engaged in harassment towards Plaintiffs, enough to suggest that the implementation of the hand tools requirement was based solely on hostility to Plaintiffs. Third, the economic impact of this regulation was considerable; it would have been economically impractical for Plaintiffs to hire enough men with hand tools to perform any sort of substantial work clearing the ditches.”

Judge Smith ruled the Hage ranch had a right to access its vested water rights, but the 9th Circuit basically ruled the ranch had no right to let cattle graze while getting to that water.

According to a Hage family press release posted by Range magazine, the family sees the conflict in rulings as something the Supreme Court needs to resolve.

“It is only the Ninth Circuit three-judge panel, after a 45 minute hearing, which determined that they are better arbiters of the truth than the two judges from two separate federal courts who actually saw the evidence and heard witnesses testify over a combined period of 43 trial days,” the press release states. “The Ninth Circuit panel, in reaching their desired outcome in U.S. v. Hage has managed to significantly diminish western water law and the laws governing rights of ways for roads, ditches and canals across federally administered lands, leaving the Hages no choice but to seek relief at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

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