More Coverage of Pershing Dispute

It seems the Judge’s recent ruling in Burning Man’s dispute against Pershing County is causing a minor stir in the legal world. Two different legal blogs have commented on the decision.

First, from AboveTheLaw


No one really likes hippies.

In addition to being dirty, they toss out annoying liberal platitudes to mask a self-absorbed worldview based around “freedom” as defined by easy access to drugs and not being hassled by regulators who aren’t cool with a commune squatting in a tenement. They’re like libertarians without showers and with the decency to pretend they care about other people.

But this federal judge hates them a lot more than the average bear. And he hates their lawyer even more…

I never really understood the appeal of Burning Man. The ritualistic final event would make me look nervously over my shoulder for Lord Summerisle. But hippies love the opportunity to drive to the middle of the Nevada desert to camp out with 60,000 other college kids and trip out as a giant wood statue burns down. You won’t believe the tracers a massive bonfire can create.

As opposed to a bunch of environmental poetry majors, Chief Judge Robert C. Jones seems like a bit of a prude. He’s a George W. Bush appointee who once wrote this gem in Sevick v. Sandoval:

Should that institution be expanded to include same-sex couples with the state’s imprimatur, it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of heterosexual persons would cease to value the civil institution as highly as they previously had and hence enter into it less frequently, opting for purely private ceremonies, if any, whether religious or secular, but in any case without civil sanction, because they no longer wish to be associated with the civil institution as redefined…

0511-0709-0620-2149_Judge_With_His_Gavel_clipart_imageDelightful. So this is exactly the sort of guy you’d expect to get seriously bent out of shape by the prospect of a bunch of hippies getting baked under the desert sun. So when the organizers of Burning Man got into a legal scuffle with its host, Pershing County, about the festival’s contribution to security and law enforcement priorities, Chief Judge Jones was the worst possible judge to get the case.

After the parties reached a settlement where Burning Man would put up a hefty chunk of money and Pershing County would coordinate with the festival over police priorities (read: not setting up narcs at the gate), they went to the court for its blessing. They did not get it.

“It’s absurd and it’s illegal,” said Jones, though it wasn’t clear what would be illegal about the agreement. Jones said under the agreement the county was waiving its right to enforce state laws, including its ability to keep children from being exposed to people “running around nude on the desert.”

“You give them virtually a veto authority over what the sheriff is doing,” he said.

Both sides said Jones misunderstood.

“We didn’t give up any right to enforce any law,” insisted Brent Kolvet, a lawyer for the county.

“We concur,” said Annette Hurst, a lawyer for Burning Man’s owner, Black Rock City LLC.

Jones shot back, “I’m sure you do.”

Aw, snap! But the jurist was just getting warmed up when it came to being a condescending jerk to everyone in the room.

Later, the judge said Kolvet was insulting his intelligence and described one of Hurst’s arguments as “mealy-mouthed.” Twice while mocking their positions, he said, “The record will reflect I’m laughing.”

He refused Hurst’s first request to speak.

“No. Just take careful notes,” Jones said.

Later, she asked again.

“I’m going to suggest, ma’am, you go back to law school,” he said. “Sit down.”

When Hurst said she was trying to complete a sentence, Jones told his clerk: “Call security.”

“For the last time, sit down,” he said.

Hurst sat and a U.S. marshal arrived seconds later but the hearing continued.

If this is the kind of treatment she could expect, maybe she’d reconsider her whole life if she had to go to law school again.

We’re looking forward to reading whatever unhinged rant the court intends to throw into its upcoming written opinion. Maybe he’ll take a page out of his Sevick v. Sandoval opinion and explain that if he allows Burning Man, “it is conceivable that a meaningful percentage of potential concertgoers would cease to value Kenny G concerts.”

But let’s focus on the last bit of the above passage. This guy called in a U.S. marshal because he didn’t want a lawyer to finish her sentence? If you’re feeling unduly threatened by lawyers who want to make arguments, maybe district judge isn’t the gig for you. It’s not like the lawyer was some dirty hippie — she’s an Orrick partner. Even in the San Francisco office, Biglaw partners tend to be more straight-laced than that.

Regardless of the Chief Judge’s outrage, this is still probably a done deal. Maybe that’s what torqued him off so much — the impotence that comes with knowing the parties are just going to ignore your rant about moral sensibilities. Normally when a middle-aged man wants to compensate he buys a sports car. Federal judges get to call on armed guards to intimidate lawyers.

Then, from FindLaw

Burning Man Settlement Fleshed Out, but Judge Won’t Sign Off

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 4, 2013 8:37 AM

The organizers of Burning Man and the Nevada county where the festival is held havesettled a lawsuit over regulating the annual event.

The deal comes a year after Black Rock City LLC (“BRC”), the organization behind the self-expressive desert festival, sued Pershing County for proposing an “obscenity” ordinance to combat nudity at the festival.

Oddly enough, the two parties are in agreement but the presiding judge is refusing to approve the settlement. Why won’t he join the legal love-fest?

)*( Settlement

For 23 years, the Black Rock Desert — located 100 miles north of Reno — has been home to the increasingly popular and influential Burning Man arts event. The “playa” attracts more than 60,000 free spirits annually, from every U.S. state and 22 countries. But over the years, tension mounted between BRC and Pershing County over rising fees for county law-enforcement efforts, culminating in a lawsuit, reports The Associated Press.

Fortunately, the two parties were able to reach a settlement before trial.

The proposed settlement agreement spans 10 years and is designed to better accommodate the Pershing County Sheriff’s Office and the Bureau of Land Management’s law-enforcement command at Burning Man, while also preserving participant freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

Settlements generally function on a “what’s-in-it-for-me?” rationale.

It’s not likely that Pershing County agreed to settle to hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” with festival organizers. As a wise sage once said, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” The annual Burning Man festivities add $35 million to the economy of northern Nevadaevery year, according to BRC. Reaching an amicable agreement was fiscally smart for Pershing County.

But then there’s U.S. District Senior Judge Robert C. Jones.

Judge Jones’ Hippie H8

For no clear reason, Judge Jones — who was appointed by George W. Bush — stymied the settlement efforts when the parties recently appeared in court.

Rather than approving the settlement and dismissing the case, Judge Jones made a peculiar series of threats that the lawyers in the case should either “go back to law school” or be disbarred, reports The AP.

It’s still unclear what exactly prompted the judge’s anger, but one legal observer at Above The Law suggests it may stem from a personal bias against hippies.

Regardless of the judge’s outrage, the settlement will soon likely be a done deal because the two parties found an amicable solution and consider the dispute resolved.

C’mon, Judge Jones. Just hug it out.

5 comments on “More Coverage of Pershing Dispute

  1. Pingback: Gift Me Your Project! | Burners.Me: Me, Burners and The Man

  2. Hippies? I doubt there have been any real hippies at BM in years. It’s just a bunch of people role playing for a week. Nothing sincere, earth changing, or meaningful despite all the hot air to the contrary.

    • these are neo-hippies. And neo-punks. As a raver, it’s hard to call today’s molly generation “rocking” to David Guetta “ravers”. So maybe they are neo-ravers also. Oh dear. Burning Man was better when it was just a rave! 😉

  3. My god, what an excruciatingly inaccurate description. College students? For most students in the US, those not on the quarter system (which is rare), BRC is impossible. It’s the first week of classes. One of the quirks of the event is that there are almost no college students.

    Clearly the author is incredibly biased and even seems to have an axe to grind.

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