The Associated Press has filed court documents in hopes of keeping federal prosecutors from withholding material from the press regarding the 2014 land rights standoff at Cliven Bundy’s Bunkerville, Nevada, ranch.
Paperwork filed Tuesday in Nevada District Court adds the news wire-service to a legal fight against the government launched previously by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and Battle Born Media, a group that publishes a dozen newspapers between Nevada and California. Together, the three companies hope to convince a judge to allow evidence concerning the 2014 Bundy ranch standoff be made available to the media.
“The AP joining in the motion to intervene reflects the broad nature of the media interest in this case and in transparency,” attorney Maggie McLetchie told the Review-Journal.
Nineteen defendants, including Mr. Bundy, are slated to stand trial in February 2017 to face charges stemming from the weekslong standoff sparked by a dispute between Mr. Bundy and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
As both sides prepare their cases, however, the government’s attorneys last week said defense lawyers should be prohibited from showing the press and public any evidence uncovered during the discovery process in order to protect its witnesses before trial.
Prosecutors claim that the defendants’ supporters have been using social media to threaten, intimidate and harass victims, witnesses and law enforcement officers involved with the case during the last two years, and that releasing any evidence, including search warrants, affidavits and government reports, would add fuel to their fire.
“The public’s First Amendment right to observe and understand the investigation in this case deserves greater respect than this proposed protective order provides,” Ms. McLetchie wrote Friday when she filed court documents on behalf of the Review-Journal challenging the proposal.
The government is not necessarily required to make evidence from the discovery process made available to the press and public, Ms. McLetchie added, but must be able to back up its argument.
“The government’s proposed protective order totally thwarts the public’s right to information about this case by protecting virtually all documents produced by the government from disclosure,” she wrote.
Barry Smith, the executive director of the Nevada Press Association, described the government’s effort to the Review-Journal as an overly broad “blanket request.”
“You don’t want to put people in danger, but there is certainly plenty of information that can be released without identifying people,” Mr. Smith said. “At some point, their witnesses are going to have to come forward in court.”
According to Ms. McLetchie, critical evidence that prosecutors want under wraps has already ended up online, and the government “cannot force them under the veil of a protective order.”
“The cat has already been let out of the bag, and the government cannot try to force it back in,” she told the Review-Journal.
Attorneys representing the majority of the 19 defendants have publicly opposed the government’s proposal, with Bundy attorney Joel Hansen calling it “nothing but an attempted coverup — a gross violation of the people’s right to know what is happening in the case by drastically curtailing the freedom of the press,” the newspaper reported.