John Balazs is an attorney in Sacramento, California, specializing in criminal defense, including appeals, habeas corpus, pardons, expungements, and civil forfeiture actions. After graduating from UCLA Law School in 1989, he clerked for Judge Harry Pregerson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. John was an Assistant Federal Defender in Fresno and Sacramento from 1992-2001. Please email EDCA items of interest to Balazslaw@gmail.com. Follow me on twitter @balazslaw.
This blog is for informational purposes only. Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The law can change rapidly and information in this blog can become outdated. Do your own research or consult with an attorney.
Former federal district judge Oliver Wanger has written a 36-page audit report of the Fresno's video policing unit. Fresno Bee, 1/7/14. [Update: Thanks to Fresno attorney Greg Mullanax, here's Wanger's Report].
[Added 12/10: NDCA District Judge Charles Breyer has been assigned to the Occupy Fresno lawsuit. No new hearing date yet.]
A federal lawsuit about a request by Occupy Fresno protesters for an immediate order to allow them to stay in Courthouse Park at all hours has been moved out of the Eastern District.
According to the federal court, it issued an order "finding it necessary to recuse all judges in the Eastern District of California from this action."
The judges "decided that recusal of the EDCA judges is appropriate for a one year period of time from the departure of former colleague, Oliver W. Wanger, in any case where he appears as counsel." Wanger was representing the county in the case.
The hearing had been scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today, but has been referred to the Ninth Circuit for reassignment.
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."
Judge Oliver Wanger, who retired Sept. 30 from the federal district court in Fresno, recently was named in a court filing as an attorney for Westlands Water District. The district delivers water to farms in the San Joaquin Valley, most of it diverted from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Just weeks before retirement, Wanger ruled in favor of Westlands in a case the district brought against federal regulation of water diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The rules are meant to protect the Delta smelt, a threatened fish.
In an outburst from the bench in that case on Sept. 19, he accused two federal scientists of bias, calling one a "zealot" and suggesting the other distorted the truth. It was a rare emotional moment for Wanger, who for two decades has ruled for both water users and environmental groups in numerous complex water cases.
On retirement, Wanger became headline partner at a Fresno law firm that previously saw relatively little work in the water arena.
Wanger said he sees no conflict in taking the Westlands case.
"I would not undertake any representation where there is a conflict," he said. "Candidly, if the environmentalists had sought to hire me or the government had sought to hire me and I had no conflicts, I would have been happy to consider representing them."
Wanger is also representing Fresno County in its effort to prevent Occupy Fresno protesters from camping in Courthouse Park.
Oliver W. Wanger is not the archetypal power broker embodied by William Mulholland but a workaholic U.S. District Court judge whose Fresno courtroom was the forum for many of the state's fiercest water conflicts.
Last week was his last on the bench. At the age of 70, Wanger returned to private practice, leaving a record of long, complex rulings and a parting diatribe at federal scientists that has echoed across the country.
Wanger's decisions determined how much water gets pumped from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta south to fields and cities and how much stays behind to sustain fish species pushed to the edge of extinction by the state's thirst. He is known for delving deeply into the minutia, writing opinions that at times read like scientific papers.
"He has been hugely influential," said Richard Frank, director of the California Environmental Law & Policy Center at UC Davis. "I think he in many ways has been the most important public official when it comes to California water policy in the last 15 years."
A former Marine Corps sergeant, prosecutor and civil trial lawyer who grew up in Beverly Hills, Wanger was appointed to the bench in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush.
A year later Congress passed the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, altering decades of federal irrigation policy. Farmers who were used to getting plenty of cheap federally subsidized water had to pay more and give up some supplies for the benefit of fish and wildlife. In 1993, the delta smelt was placed on the endangered species list.
The ensuing, and still raging, war between fish protections and water exports sent a seemingly endless stream of lawsuits to Wanger's courtroom.
In a series of decisions, he handed victories to both sides. He found that the federal and state water-delivery systems imperiled native smelt and salmon. He ruled that fish protections issued by the George W. Bush administration were inadequate. Then he found that tougher pumping restrictions imposed later were not entirely justified.
"I have always been what I would call a down-the-middle person, calling things as I see them," Wanger, a Republican, said in an interview during his final week. "I feel I don't have many friends. That is a fact. Every constituency in these cases finds a reason to not like what I do."
That's Judge Wanger's conclusion in this 60-page opinion issued on his last day in office. It finds that federal agencies properly approved of a plan permitting commercial and recreational fishing of fall-run Chinook Salmon in Sacramento River waters south of Cape Falcon, Oregon for the 2011 fishing season.
A federal judge whose rulings in high-profile California water cases have had far-reaching impact on protections of threatened fish species and on how much water flows from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to farms and cities is stepping down after two decades on the bench.
The decisions of judge Oliver W. Wanger — who leaves the courthouse on Sept. 30 — have at times angered farmers, environmentalists and federal government officials. Despite this, Wanger, 70, is recognized by all sides for his historic role and his strict adherence to the law.
"Over the course of the last two decades, no one has had a greater influence on California water than Judge Wanger," said Tom Birmingham, general manager of the Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural water district in the nation, which has participated in numerous cases before the judge. "There isn't a judge for whom I have greater respect."
Bill Jennings of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, which has often opposed Westlands in court, echoed the sentiment: "We have found him to be a fair judge who addresses what is before him."
A federal judge in Fresno today invalidated key parts of a plan to protect endangered winter- and sprint-run chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead species that migrate through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger's 279-page decision has similarities to a ruling last December on the threatened delta smelt, although this new ruling involves slightly different facts and challenges brought by the water users who depend on delta water.
Like the smelt decision, Tuesday's salmon and steelhead ruling likely will force the federal government to rewrite the plan -- known as a biological opinion -- for the second time in three years.
Wanger's decision, however, was a mixed bag -- even though supporters of increased delta pumping are already hailing it as a great victory -- and is likely another skirmish in the long-running battle between environmentalists and urban and agricultural water users over the delta.
Fresno Bee, 9/20/11. This Volokh Conspiracy blog includes excerpts from Judge Wanger's comments from the bench harshly criticizing two of the government's scientist witnesses. Judge Wanger's opinion is available at the PLF's blog here.
Oliver W. Wanger, the often larger-than-life federal judge who has presided over some of this region's most high-profile cases, is stepping down after two decades.
Wanger, 70, is taking the rare step of leaving the bench and returning to private practice. His last day at Fresno's federal courthouse is Sept. 30, a Friday. The following Monday, he'll hang out his shingle as a partner at the newly created firm of Wanger Jones Helsley.
"I am going to be a lawyer," Wanger said. "I'm going back to the other side of the bench."
Wanger said he's frustrated by the Fresno court's growing caseload and Congress's unwillingness to add judges here.
Wanger – who sent his resignation letter Wednesday to Anthony W. Ishii, the chief judge for California's eastern federal judicial district – plans to be much more than a trial lawyer.
The notorious workaholic still plans to offer his services as a defense attorney, but he also plans to teach, advise trial lawyers and local governments, and be an expert witness. He also will hear civil cases as a private judge.