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Retired federal judge to represent Westlands Water District

November 29, 2011 |  9:47 pm

Oliver WangerTwo months after he retired from the federal bench to return to private practice, Oliver Wanger has agreed to represent an influential irrigation district that frequented his courtroom.

As a U.S. District Court judge in Fresno, Wanger decided most of the last decade's major water cases in California. Many involved Westlands Water District as either a plaintiff or a defendant.

Now Wanger is going to defend Westlands in a recently filed Superior Court lawsuit brought by several environmental groups and a Native American tribe.

“It’s one case only in the state court. It involves matters of law and fact that I, of course, had nothing to do with and no association with” as a federal judge, Wanger said.

The suit contends that under California law, Westlands should have undertaken a state environmental review of its proposed federal water contracts.

Known for its combativeness, the district has over the years hired a number of former U.S. Interior Department officials.

Wanger said Westlands contacted his Fresno law practice about the suit. "The representations that we've been given … are that this case had nothing to do with anything that I worked on.”

“I obviously am bound by the canons of ethics and judicial conduct and will observe those scrupulously,”  added Wanger, who has been a featured speaker at several meetings of water contractors since he left the bench Sept. 30.

Stephan Volker, attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients “are flattered that Westlands felt it needed to hire a former federal judge to defend against our case. But its strategy will not defeat our lawsuit.”

Generally considered even-handed in his rulings, Wanger caused a stir during his final weeks as a judge  when he attacked the credibility of two federal biologists who had testified before him in a case involving environmental curbs on water deliveries to Westlands and Southern California.


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Photo: Oliver W. Wanger. Credit: Gosia Wozniacka / Associated Press