Retired federal judge withdraws from Westlands Water District case


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Oliver Wanger won’t be representing the Westlands Water District after all, at least not this time.

The recently retired U.S. District Court judge caught a lot of flak last week when word got out that he would defend the powerful irrigation district in a state Superior Court lawsuit filed by environmental groups.


Newspaper editorials and bloggers criticized the move, saying Wanger had tarnished his judicial legacy by agreeing to represent Westlands, a party to numerous big water cases that he had decided in federal court.

In a statement released Tuesday, Wanger’s Fresno law firm said the ‘recent media comment has raised confusion about the cases’ he can take on as a private attorney. ‘The rules do not prevent him from taking cases involving parties who previously appeared before him. No conflict or violation of any rule has occurred.’

But to avoid ‘misperception and diversion of attention from the merits of the case,’ Wanger and the law firm ‘have substituted out of the pending state appellate case involving the Westlands Water District. Neither he nor the law firm has provided any legal service whatsoever to the Westlands Water District in the state appellate case or in any other matter, nor is Westlands a client of Mr. Wanger or the firm.’

Westlands, which has a tradition of hiring former federal water officials, apparently hasn’t crossed Wanger off its list. ‘His decision not to proceed with this matter is entirely consistent with the meticulous attention he applied to all aspects of the law during his long career in the federal judiciary,’ Thomas Birmingham, the district’s general manager, said in a statement. ‘We hope to work with him on other issues in the future.’


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--Bettina Boxall