Navy Vet Jailed for Digging Trenches in Yard Has Name Posthumously Cleared

‘It has been an honor to represent Joe and now to be able to complete his vindication…’

78-Year-Old Navy Veteran Jailed, Fined for Digging Ponds Against EPA Rules

Joe Robertson / PHOTO: Pacific Legal Foundation

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the conviction of Navy veteran Joe Robertson, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $130,000 for digging ditches in violation of the Clean Water Act.

But Robertson served the time, going to prison at 77 years old. He completed the sentence in late 2017, was released, and died this March, reported the Pacific Legal Foundation, which represented him.

The 9th Circuit vindicated him, but not before he lost precious time with his wife, Carri Robertson.

In 2013 and 2014, Joe dug channels in and around a foot-wide and a foot-deep stream that runs through a clearing on his forested Montana property.

The federal government prosecuted Joe for digging near and thus polluting “navigable waters” without a permit, The Daily Signal reported.

Joe’s home is 40 miles away from the nearest navigable water. The stream that he altered does not have a name.

Robertson’s attorneys successfully argued that the Clean Water Act, in failing to define “navigable waters,” is unconstitutional. They said it is unreasonable for an average person to assume that a small creek is a federally-protected commercial waterway.

Carri decided to fight the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to the end, despite Joe’s death, so that his name would be clear and she would not be strapped with the $130,000 fine.

“We are very pleased that the Ninth Circuit agreed that Joe’s convictions should be vacated and very pleased for Carri, who will no longer have a $130,000 federal judgment hanging over her head,” said PLF senior attorney Tony Francois in a press statement.

“It has been an honor to represent Joe and now to be able to complete his vindication on behalf of his wife, Carri,” Francois said.

The 9th Circuit had previously upheld the federal government’s conviction of Joe.

Robertson appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, which vacated the 9th Circuit’s ruling and sent the case back, ordering them to review it again.

In addition to the vacated conviction, the 9th Circuit also ordered the federal government to return $1,250 in restitution.