Burning Man Settlement Fleshed Out, but Judge Won't Sign Off

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on December 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The organizers of Burning Man and the Nevada county where the festival is held have settled a lawsuit over regulating the annual event.

The deal comes a year after Black Rock City LLC ("BRC"), the organization behind the self-expressive desert festival, sued Pershing County for proposing an "obscenity" ordinance to combat nudity at the festival.

Oddly enough, the two parties are in agreement but the presiding judge is refusing to approve the settlement. Why won't he join the legal love-fest?

)*( Settlement

For 23 years, the Black Rock Desert -- located 100 miles north of Reno -- has been home to the increasingly popular and influential Burning Man arts event. The "playa" attracts more than 60,000 free spirits annually, from every U.S. state and 22 countries. But over the years, tension mounted between BRC and Pershing County over rising fees for county law-enforcement efforts, culminating in a lawsuit, reports The Associated Press.

Fortunately, the two parties were able to reach a settlement before trial.

The proposed settlement agreement spans 10 years and is designed to better accommodate the Pershing County Sheriff's Office and the Bureau of Land Management's law-enforcement command at Burning Man, while also preserving participant freedoms protected by the First Amendment.

Settlements generally function on a "what's-in-it-for-me?" rationale.

It's not likely that Pershing County agreed to settle to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" with festival organizers. As a wise sage once said, "It's all about the Benjamins, baby." The annual Burning Man festivities add $35 million to the economy of northern Nevada every year, according to BRC. Reaching an amicable agreement was fiscally smart for Pershing County.

But then there's U.S. District Senior Judge Robert C. Jones.

Judge Jones' Hippie H8

For no clear reason, Judge Jones -- who was appointed by George W. Bush -- stymied the settlement efforts when the parties recently appeared in court.

Rather than approving the settlement and dismissing the case, Judge Jones made a peculiar series of threats that the lawyers in the case should either "go back to law school" or be disbarred, reports The AP.

It's still unclear what exactly prompted the judge's anger, but one legal observer at Above The Law suggests it may stem from a personal bias against hippies.

Regardless of the judge's outrage, the settlement will soon likely be a done deal because the two parties found an amicable solution and consider the dispute resolved.

C'mon, Judge Jones. Just hug it out.

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