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Rancher who confronted hunters won’t get new trial

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

A judge has refused to grant a new trial to a Douglas rancher who was ordered to pay nearly $100,000 in damages for threatening a hunting party in 2004.

Roger Barnett’s lawyer argued that Barnett had been unfairly prejudiced when the jury at the November trial was allowed to award damages based on a charge of negligent infliction of emotional distress.

“I was caught unawares at the 11th hour and 59th minute,” attorney John Kelliher said at a hearing Monday in Bisbee.

David Urias, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said the argument “simply doesn’t make sense.”

Whether Barnett’s behavior was negligent or intentional, he said, the proof was in the same evidence. Kelliher could have done nothing different at trial to defend against a negligence claim, he argued.

“It’s quite obvious that in Arizona, it’s the proof and not the pleadings” that matter, Urias said.

Cochise County Judge James Conlogue denied the motion for a new trial, as well as a second motion to reduce damages.

The suit was brought by Ronald Morales of Douglas and his father, Arturo, Morales’ 11- and 13-year-old daughters and another girl.

The group was hunting near Barnett’s Douglas-area ranch on Oct. 30, 2004, when it was confronted by Barnett and accused of trespassing.

The lawsuit said the Morales party was legally crossing land Barnett leases from the state when the incident took place. Barnett said he had posted the property as off limits.

The Moraleses said Barnett insulted them with racial slurs and threatened to shoot them. Barnett said he didn’t use slurs and only took out his gun because Ronald Morales was carrying a rifle.

The jury assessed damages at $210,000 but ordered Barnett to pay only $98,775 after laying part of the blame on the Morales men.

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