By Alex Dobuzinskis
(Reuters) - The Nevada rancher at the center of a 2014 armed standoff with federal agents was due to appear on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, seeking to be released from custody ahead of his trial on conspiracy and other felony charges.
Cliven Bundy, 69, has been jailed since his arrest on Feb. 10 at the Portland International Airport after arriving there on his way to show support for anti-government militants who had taken over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
Bundy and two of his sons, Ammon and Ryan, who were indicted in connection with leading the Oregon occupation and also face charges with their father in the Nevada standoff, have become popular figures for groups challenging federal control over vast stretches of public land in the West.
Prosecutors have said the elder Bundy trespassed on federal lands for over 20 years, refusing to secure the necessary permits or pay the required fees the government charges ranchers to let their cattle graze on U.S.-owned public property.
In an enforcement action nearly two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management sent armed rangers to Bundy's ranch about 80 miles (129 km) northeast of Las Vegas to confiscate his cattle.
Anti-government groups and other supporters rallied to Bundy's defense. In an armed standoff on April 12, 2014, along Interstate 15, they confronted federal agents, who ultimately backed down and returned the cattle they had seized.
The case against Bundy stems from that clash. He was indicted on charges of conspiracy, assault on a law enforcement officer, carrying a firearm in a crime of violence, obstruction of justice, interference with commerce by extortion and aiding and abetting others in breaking the law.
Defense lawyers in court papers filed on Wednesday sought his pre-trial release, arguing Bundy is peaceable and not a flight risk.
"When he is released he is going to go back to the ranch and take care of his chores there," attorney Joel Hansen wrote.
A federal judge in Oregon last month ordered Bundy to remain in custody, finding that the rancher, who at times has traveled with armed guards, was a flight risk and posed a public threat. Prosecutors have cited that ruling in opposing further consideration of his pre-trial release.
The federal judge in Las Vegas on Thursday morning was scheduled to hear arguments on whether to hold a new detention hearing for Bundy.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman, Bernard Orr)