The Consequences of Legal Snake Oil

A few months ago, I wrote about a group of grossly incorrect arguments that some people have attempted to use to disrupt the judicial system. <https://danielreitman.wordpress.com/2016/02/22/dont-fall-for-legal-snake-oil/&gt;. Not surprisingly, some of those tactics have been used in the prosecutions arising out of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupation earlier this year. Two weeks before the trial, the judge has now issued an order warning one of the defendants, Ryan Bundy, that he may be forced to have a lawyer appointed for him instead of representing himself. Order to Show Cause as to Defendant Ryan Bundy, United States v. Bundy, No. 3:16-cr-00051-BR-5 (D. Or., Aug. 24, 2016), <http://media.oregonlive.com/portland_impact/other/rbundyjudgeshowcauseorder.pdf>.

As noted in the previous article, one of the risks of raising meaningless arguments and using disruptive strategies is that the judge may be antagonized. That is exactly what happened.

The order spends several pages detailing Mr. Bundy’s violations of procedural rules. These include repeatedly attempting to re-raise issues that were previously denied; filing multiple challenges to the court’s jurisdiction after a deadline for such motions had passed; repeatedly requesting a bill of particulars, including within hours after he was told by the judge that she would not entertain another request; and filing numerous motions with no discernible legal basis. Probably the last straw was a motion filed the day before the order was issued, in which Mr. Bundy requested proof that the judge was licensed to practice law in Oregon and documentation of the court’s insurance for damages to the public from its operations.

The law generally acknowledges that anyone has the right to represent themselves in court, although an old joke says that anyone acting as their own lawyer has a fool for a client. When someone gets stuck in a rut like Mr. Bundy’s, however, the joke is no longer funny. It is difficult to distinguish honest delusion about the law from intentional disruption, and courts tend to eventually conclude, as the judge in this case has, that they are faced with an attempt to prevent the court from operating. When a person does cross that line, they can be denied the right to serve as their own lawyer, and often when a judge suspects that may happen, a lawyer will be kept on standby so that he or she can step in with little delay. I expect that within a few days of the publication of this article, Mr. Bundy’s standby lawyer will be told to take over.

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