A judge overseeing the trial of seven defendants who took over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon dismissed a juror Wednesday after questions arose about his impartiality.
U.S. District Judge Anna Brown said she would replace the juror with an alternate and then placed deliberations on hold until Thursday so the replacement juror could travel to Portland from central Oregon.
Defendant Ammon Bundy’s defense attorney filed a court motion early Wednesday asking the judge to dismiss the juror over allegations of bias — or to declare a mistrial entirely. In court papers, attorney Marcus Mumford said the court had not adequately investigated concerns about the juror’s impartiality, which emerged Tuesday afternoon in a note sent to the judge by another juror.
In the note, Juror No. 4 wrote: “Can a juror, a former employee of the Bureau of Land Management, who opens their remarks in deliberations by stating ‘I am very biased ...’ be considered an impartial judge in this case?”
The jury had been deliberating three days when the note was sent.
Brown said during a hearing on the matter late Tuesday that the juror in question was Juror No. 11, who worked as a range tech and firefighter for the BLM more than 20 years ago.
That’s relevant because another federal land management agency — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — oversees the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which Bundy, his brother Ryan and five others took over last winter in a 41-day armed standoff near Burns, Ore.
The Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management are both under the umbrella of the U.S. Department of Interior.
The jury is considering charges against the Bundy brothers and the others of conspiring to impede federal workers from doing their jobs at the refuge. They took over the bird sanctuary Jan. 2, objecting to federal land policy and demanding the U.S. government turn over control of the public range to local officials.
During jury selection, the man said his past employment would not prejudice his views in the case.
Brown questioned the man again Tuesday in her chambers and ruled that he could remain on the jury.
However, she told defense attorneys they had until Wednesday to file motions citing specific case law if they wanted to press for more jury questioning.
A second note sent Tuesday by jurors read: “If we are able to agree on a verdict for three of the defendants, but are at a standoff for the others, does our decision for the three stand?” The note does not identify the three.
Before sending the jury home, Brown sent back a note that instructed them to “consider each count for each defendant separately.”