Billings man sues judge over horse removal ruling

Billings, Montana (AP) May 2011

A Billings man has filed a federal lawsuit claiming a Yellowstone County judge did not have the jurisdiction to order his horses removed from land leased by his father.

The suit, filed by Seth Leachman, alleges Justice of the Peace Pedro Hernandez caused him emotional distress and led him to spend money trying to find suitable pasture for nearly 70 horses.

On April 20, Hernandez gave Leachman’s father, James, 10 days to remove the horses from land east of Billings where the animals had no access to water.

The order came during a hearing in which James Leachman pleaded not guilty to an eighth charge of misdemeanor animal cruelty for failing to provide adequate food, water and veterinary care for hundreds of horses.

The horses were trespassing on tribal lands, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs ordered them rounded up and sold at auction.

Seth Leachman’s legal action said he owns the horses that were subject to the order.

Seth Leachman successfully bid on about 65 horses during the auction of the horses belonging to his father. Several days later, James Leachman presented a cashier’s check for just over $33,000 to pay for the horses.

Seth Leachman said the horses were turned out to pasture on land his father leased. However, Yellowstone County prosecutors have said the horses don’t have access to water and have been trespassing on neighboring land.

During the April 20 hearing, Hernandez asked James Leachman who owned the horses, to which James Leachman responded, “I did not buy the horses.”

“Then they have no right to be there,” Hernandez said.

Seth Leachman argues that Hernandez’s order deprives him of his rights to due process and violates his constitutional property rights and contract rights between him and his father to pasture the horses.

“I don’t know what arrangements Seth and his father have, I just said remove the horses,” Hernandez told The Associated Press last week.

The lawsuit seeks a judgment that Hernandez made the ruling without jurisdiction over Seth Leachman, that the order is void and asks for a ruling prohibiting the judge from exercising judicial authority over Seth Leachman.

Hernandez said Seth Leachman has a right to challenge the order. “That’s our system,” he said.

The lawsuit has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull, who presided over the lengthy court case involving James Leachman’s delinquent debt on his ranches. In 2006, Cebull ordered the federal government to sell Leachman’s personal ranch and his company’s ranch to pay off his creditors. The ranches were sold last summer.