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.