PORTLAND — A federal judge agreed Tuesday to let Oregon standoff defendants Ryan Bundy and Kenneth Medenbach represent themselves at their upcoming trial, despite concerns they won't follow court rulings in the presence of the jury.
The men, along with co-defendant Shawna Cox, have been acting as their own lawyers in the run-up to the trial, with varying degrees of help from appointed standby attorneys.
U.S. District Judge Court Anna Brown threatened to take away their right to self-representation because they have repeatedly challenged the court's jurisdiction. At a hearing Tuesday, she said the right to serve as your own lawyer is not a license to do whatever you want in a courtroom.
She wanted them to promise to follow her rulings and not raise issues in front of the jury that have already been resolved.
"I will follow all the rules," Medenbach said.
Bundy was much more hesitant. The judge wanted a yes or no answer, but Bundy wouldn't supply one, despite the urging of a female supporter in the gallery: "Say yes, Ryan."
"I still have questions on some of those rulings," Bundy said. He eventually agreed to only raise concerns when the jury is out of the room.
The men are among eight defendants preparing to stand trial on a charge of conspiring to impede federal employees from doing their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. The armed takeover of the refuge started Jan. 2 as a protest against the imprisonment of two local ranchers. It lasted 41 days.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Sept. 7 and opening statements are tentatively slated for Sept. 13.
Tuesday's hearing got off to tough start for Bundy when the judge wouldn't let a new volunteer paralegal sit at the defense table. The paralegal, identified as Jeremy Baker, arrived from Texas on Monday night.
Courtroom security ejected the paralegal when he left his seat, moved to the front bench of the gallery and tried to loudly whisper legal advice to Bundy while the judge was speaking.
Brown scheduled the hearing because she doesn't want the trial to become a circus, and Bundy has repeatedly challenged the court's jurisdiction while filing motions the judge considers frivolous. Medenbach, meanwhile, has questioned whether the government owns the refuge and if the judge took the proper oath of office after her 1999 appointment.
The judge said those matters are resolved and can't be mentioned in front of a jury.
Matthew Schindler, Medenbach's standby counsel, said his client only made those arguments to preserve the record for a potential appeal. Schindler is expected to take more active role during trial than Bundy's standby counsel, but said Medenbach is still the one calling the shots. One of those orders apparently is to not pin the blame on the leaders.
"He doesn't want me to denigrate Ryan Bundy; he doesn't want me to go after Ammon Bundy," Schindler said.