MEDFORD, Ore. — Disputing claims of her alleged political bias point-by-point, a federal judge refused to step aside in an Eagle Point, Ore., man’s $21 billion lawsuit seeking to halt the governor’s emergency orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken on Wednesday denied for a second time Southern Oregon rancher Francis Steffan Hayes’ request for a preliminary injunction putting a stop to state emergency orders. Hays claims in a lawsuit that that his constitutional rights were violated because he couldn’t buy feed for his livestock last summer without wearing a mask.
Hayes’ lawsuit against Gov. Kate Brown and the state seeks $100,000 for himself and $5,000 for every Oregonian due to alleged rights violations during the governor’s emergency order.
The core of Hayes’ lawsuit stemmed from an incident at a Coastal Farm & Ranch store in which he claims that he was “threatened with physical arrest, publicly humiliated and charged with trespass for attempting to exercise his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Hayes faces a misdemeanor charge of second-degree trespassing for the July 26, 2020, incident at the White City store, Jackson County Circuit Court records show, and is representing himself in the criminal case.
“Comes now, Accused, Francis Steffan Hayes, one of the People, belligerent claimant, at Law, a man created in the image of The Father, Jesus the Christ and the Holy Ghost, not an evolved man or any other form of primate or other animal; to deny all elements of the charge against him,” his 19-page response to the criminal charge reads in part.
State court records show that Hayes has a warrant for failing to appear at a Dec. 18, 2020, hearing on the trespassing charge.
Aiken previously denied Hayes’ motions for an injunction last August, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Medford and earlier newsreports.
Not satisfied with Aiken’s ruling, Hayes petitioned for Aiken to be removed from the case in a pair of motions citing allegations of judicial bias. Aiken disputed Hayes’ motions based on rulings in 11 similar lawsuits surrounding state emergency orders during the pandemic, and because a party disagreeing with a judge’s ruling isn’t grounds for recusal.
“I decline to recuse myself simply because plaintiff feels my previous decision was in error,” Aiken wrote.
She disputed Hayes’ claims of political bias, which she claims are based primarily on her work on a political campaign in the early 1980s — six years prior to her becoming a district judge — and the political beliefs of her family.
She cites legal precedent that determined that political activity prior to being a judge is not prejudice.
“Given that the activity cited by plaintiff occurred nearly 40 years ago, I find that is not a sufficient reason for recusal,” Aiken wrote.
Hayes also sought Aiken’s recusal based on claims that Aiken has voiced support in the media for Gov. Brown.
Aiken states that the story in question was a Eugene Weekly story from 2015 — long before the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdown orders — when Aiken was quoted as saying, “Kate Brown will do well.”
Aiken described the statement as an “offhand remark” at an event honoring Oregon’s first woman Supreme Court Justice, Betty Roberts, that occurred the day Gov. John Kitzhaber stepped down and then-Secretary of State Brown became governor.
Aiken acknowledged that at one point she compared Brown’s legislative background to the background of Justice Roberts’, but called Hayes’ allegation “conclusory at best.”
“Reviewing all of plaintiff’s arguments, I find that plaintiff has failed to show that a reasonable person with the knowledge of all the facts would conclude that my impartiality in this matter might be questioned,” Aiken wrote. “Accordingly, the motions for recusal are denied.”
Aiken picked apart reasons why the federal lawsuit doesn’t appear successful at face value, and why she’s denying it.
Hayes claimed in his lawsuit that the mask order violates his due process rights under Oregon’s Fifth and 14th amendments — relating to executive power and seat of government, and later clarified in court that he’s “attacking the underlying declaration of emergency,” according to Aiken’s order.
Drawing precedent from the 1905 case Jacobson v. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Aiken states that the court’s role “is not to ‘usurp the functions of another branch of government’ in deciding how best to protect public health, as long as the measures are not arbitrary and unreasonable.”
Further, Aiken states that a federal court is not the proper venue for arguing matters of state law; however she notes that even if the court were to analyze whether the governor’s emergency order violated state statute, “the court would have to note that the Oregon Revised Statute defining emergency specifically includes ‘disease’ as a type of event which would qualify for the designation.”
No upcoming hearings are yet scheduled in Hayes’ lawsuit, U.S. District Court records showed, and state court records show no upcoming hearings yet scheduled in the criminal trespassing case since Dec. 18.