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After nearly four decades of presiding over a dispute involving Ute tribal boundaries, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins was removed from the case this month by the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the jurist twice had failed to enforce its mandates.

In a letter filed Friday, Jenkins, who sits on the bench in Salt Lake City, denied the assertion that he had violated any mandate.

The Denver-based appeals court said he issued a one-line order that denied without explanation a request by the Ute Tribe for a preliminary injunction, Jenkins noted. However, he wrote, the order was entered by another judge in a separate case that later was added to the Ute case.

"While I am an advocate of brevity, never in my life have I signed a one-line order," Jenkins said.

He added: "While I have always taken responsibility for my own sins, a perceived sin of a colleague ought not to be attributed to me as part of the justification for reassignment. His views are not necessarily my views."

The other supposed failure was his ruling — which quoted a U.S. Supreme Court opinion — that dismissed Myton as a defendant in the case, Jenkins said.

"The fact that I wrote an opinion and granted a motion does not violate a mandate," he said. "My opinion may be wrong in the eyes of some, but it violates no mandate."

The letter was addressed to Chief Judge David Nuffer of the U.S. District of Utah, whose responsibilities include assigning cases. Jenkins said he has a calendar of "complex and challenging matters" and does not care who finishes the Ute case, but he does care "that an alleged factual basis for an order of reassignment be accurate as well as adequate."

Nuffer has not assigned a new judge to the case, according to court records.

The case, which focuses on the boundaries of "Indian country," has pitted the Ute Indian Tribe against Utah and its subdivisions, including Uintah and Duchesne counties.

The litigation began in earnest in 1975, when the Ute Tribe filed its suit alleging the state and several local governments were prosecuting American Indians for crimes they allegedly committed on tribal lands. The litigation led to numerous appeals and rulings, including seven decisions from the 10th Circuit.

On Aug. 9, the appeals court, while stressing that it saw "no sign of bias" from Jenkins, ordered the case reassigned. The unanimous ruling from a three-judge panel — which compared its situation to that of the mythical Sisyphus, who toiled for eternity rolling a boulder up a hill only to see it careen back down — also ordered Utah's federal court "to proceed to a final disposition promptly."

Jenkins, who inherited the case when he was appointed to the federal bench in 1978, said in his letter that a trial had been scheduled for last March to determine which parcels in a swath of the Uinta Basin within the boundaries of the historic Uintah Valley and Uncompahgre reservations were Indian country. That trial was vacated because the Ute Tribe filed a motion to have him recused from the case, the judge said.

"It was a mighty struggle to get that far," Jenkins said, adding that he has spent months of his time over the years on this case.

Twitter: @PamelaMansonSLC