Friday, February 01, 2013

Judge: Ranchers can pursue First Amendment case against Forest Service

A federal judge has ruled that a Forest Service district supervisor may have retaliated against a group of Northern New Mexico ranchers for speaking out against her, and the group can seek to overturn her decision to reduce their grazing permits. More than a dozen ranchers from Rio Arriba County, two grazing associations and the County Commission filed a lawsuit last year against El Rito District Ranger Diana Trujillo, claiming she violated their First Amendment rights. U.S. District Judge James O. Browning in Albuquerque found the ranchers couldn’t sue Trujillo in her personal capacity but have a plausible case that Trujillo retaliated against them in 2010 for their repeated complaints about her management of the district. She reduced their grazing permits by 18 percent through 2016. Ranchers believe Trujillo reduced their grazing rights unfairly to make room for wild horses. Ranchers complained in 2006 to the Carson National Forest supervisor that Trujillo was failing to control the wild horse and elk numbers. Both compete with livestock for forage. Ranchers claim that shortly after they complained, Trujillo ordered all cattle removed from the allotments, according to court records. In 2009, ranchers complained again about the lack of wild horse and elk reductions, this time to New Mexico’s congressional delegation, then Gov. Bill Richardson and Trujillo’s supervisor. They claimed Trujillo was trying to end livestock gazing on the allotments and asked for her removal. They allege Trujillo again retaliated by reducing livestock numbers. The court noted there might be more “benign” reasons for Trujillo’s actions than the ranchers acknowledge, but it found “government retaliation against those who criticize the powerful is a real problem that cannot be ignored and set aside.”...more

The discovery process on this should be very interesting.  Why did she not select the preferred alternative?

Chalk one up for the ranchers and the government has learned they really shouldn't try to fool Judge Browning.

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