LAS VEGAS — A federal magistrate judge in Las Vegas cited prosecutors’ concerns about threats of violence in a ruling that keeps many documents secret in the Nevada criminal case involving rancher Cliven Bundy and a 2014 armed standoff with government agents.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen said she found a “credible risk” that public disclosure of documents turned over by prosecutors to attorneys for the 19 defendants might be used to intimidate or influence potential witnesses.
Chris Rasmussen, attorney for Peter Santilli, one of the 19 defendants in the case, said Monday he’ll appeal the ruling.
The order, issued Friday, doesn’t apply to materials collected from the internet and other public sources.
It rejected arguments by most of the defendants — and by media including The Associated Press, the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Nevada newspaper publisher Battle Born Media — that grand jury transcripts, FBI and police reports and witness statements to investigators should be made public.
Attorney Margaret McLetchie, representing the media, said the public shouldn’t be comfortable that documents are sealed. But she said the order “at least makes it clear that items publicly available can’t be treated as confidential.”
Leen’s order pointed to a ruling by a federal court ahead of the 1997 trial and conviction of Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people.
“The news media and public are spectators, not participants, in the process of adjudication,” it said.
Leen said she was swayed in the Bundy case by 22 examples cited by prosecutors in Las Vegas of “actual and potential threats, intimidation and harassment to victims, witnesses and law enforcers” dating to 2014.
“Cumulatively, the 22 examples are sufficient to establish a credible risk,” the judge said.
Bundy, four of his sons and the 14 other defendants in Nevada have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, obstruction, weapon, threat and assault charges that could get them decades in prison in the tense gunpoint standoff against government agents and cowboy contractors. All 19 are in federal custody. Trial is scheduled in February.
The Las Vegas case is separate from a criminal case headed for trial Sept. 7 in federal court in Portland, Oregon, stemming from a 41-day armed occupation of a U.S. wildlife refuge this year. Bundy sons Ammon Bundy and Ryan Bundy and five other defendants in Nevada were among 26 people accused in the Oregon case. Seven have pleaded guilty.
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