The federal government has moved to recuse U.S. District Judge Robert C. Jones from the 92-year-long lawsuit to establish water rights which will serve the Walker River Paiute reservation.
The claim was made on that Judge Jones “has a personal bias against the United States.”
The U.S. filed suit against the Walker River Irrigation District and others in 1924 to “enjoin them from interfering with the use of the Walker River for irrigation on the tribe’s reservation, which the river runs across” stated Law360.
In the motion, the federal government claims that Judge Jones, who took over the case in 2012 – 88 years after the initial suit was filed – has taken “a number of unusual steps against the United States” both in this and other cases.
An example that the motion cited was that Judge Jones had interfered with the federal government’s ability to appear and pursue its interest in the instant suit by prohibit its counsel from appearing without any basis, the motion stated.
“Further, he has expressed views on the record, both in this case and in other cases, that reflect bias against the United States concerning the United States’ land management practices and water rights,” the motion would go on to state.
Jones dismissed the federal Government’s water rights claims in May of 2015, which had been pending for two decades, in a decision that was “sweeping in scope”.
The federal government has filed an appeal at the Ninth Circuit concerning the decision made by Judge Jones, requesting “that it be reversed and that the case be reassigned because of Judge jones’ bias against the U.S.”.
The federal government would point out that the Ninth Circuit had, in a separate suit also pertaining to federal land management and private water rights claims, addressed Judge Jones’ “hostile conduct” against the United States.
That lawsuit, United States v. Estate of Hage, the Ninth circuit said that the judge “harbored animus toward the federal agencies” and that the judges decisions were “bias and prejudgment”. The case was reassigned.
The federal government’s lawsuit resulted in a 1936 decree that recognized a federal reserved irrigation right for the tribe’s reservation and established irrigation rights in the Walker River for the Walker River Paiute Tribe and other parties, the motion states.
In the 1990’s, both the federal government and the tribe – which had intervened – moved to modify the decree to reflect additional water right on the Walker River.
Judge Jones dismissed all of the federal government’s claims in May of 2015 as barred by the doctrine of res judicata and in the alternative laches.
The federal government claimed in their motion, “that no motion to dismiss had been based on either res judicata or laches, so it never had the opportunity to address such claims.”
“Ultimately, Judge Jones simply ‘granted’ a motion to dismiss against the United States that had never been presented,” the motion said.
The case is United States of America v. Walker River Irrigation, case number 3:73-cv-00125 and is in the U.S.
District Court for the District of Nevada.