Judge steps down from Recapture Canyon case

San Juan Commissioner Phil Lyman speaking at the protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – A federal judge recused himself from the Recapture Canyon case involving a San Juan County Commissioner who was convicted earlier this year for his role in a 2014 ATV protest ride in the canyon.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby filed a motion Friday to recuse himself from the case involving San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and co-defendant Monte Wells. Both men were convicted by a jury earlier this year on federal misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and driving motorized vehicles on closed public lands. Both are scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 15.

In July, Lyman’s defense team filed a motion requesting Shelby remove himself from the case due to a potential conflict of interest involving his friendship with Steven Bloch, the legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Shelby had previously disclosed his friendship with Bloch in an unrelated civil case, Lyman’s motion noted. No such disclosure was made in Lyman’s case, the motion states. Lyman’s lawyers also provided a transcript of Shelby’s disclosure in the motion:

Steve Bloch and his wife Kara are friends of mine and have been for a long, long time. I practiced with Kara at Snow Christensen starting in 1999. My wife and I have socialized with the two of them since that time, we continue to socialize. My son is close friends with Steve’s son, they play on the same soccer team, in the same school class. We have dinner, are couples together and with other friends not infrequently …

Lyman’s motion contends that Shelby’s friendship with Bloch “would lead a reasonable person to question the court’s impartiality in this case.”

Shelby noted in his motion that, following Lyman’s conviction, SUWA and three other conversation groups submitted a letter to the court ahead of sentencing asking that the court render a “punishment that reflects the egregiousness of (Lyman’s) crimes.”

“Until Mr. Lyman filed this disqualification motion, the court was unaware of any involvement in this proceeding by SUWA – which is no party to the case,” Shelby wrote, adding that Lyman had no factual basis that would lead “a well informed, thoughtful, and objective observer” to reach a conclusion that the judge knew otherwise.

Nevertheless, due to SUWA and other groups submitting a letter seeking to influence the Lyman’s sentencing, coupled with the question of potential conflict of interest raised by Lyman’s motion, Shelby chose to recuse himself.

(This leads) the court independently to conclude that recusal will promote confidence in these proceedings and avoid even the appearance of impropriety in connection with the court’s sentencing duties,” Shelby wrote.

Shelby’s decision comes ahead of any potential ruling that may have otherwise been rendered by another federal judge who had been reviewing Lyman’s disqualification motion.

A new judge will be assigned to oversee sentencing in the case.

On May 10, 2014, Lyman, Wells, and others took part in an ATV ride into Recapture Canyon, near Blanding, Utah, to protest its closure by the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM closed access to the canyon in 2007 in order to protect archaeologically-sensitive sites found within it. However, locals claim the closure was arbitrary and bypassed a federally mandated review process.

The BLM maintains the protest ride didn’t have permission to go into the canyon, thus rendering it an illegal activity. The agency charged Lyman and Wells and three other men accordingly. One of the men had charges dropped early on, while the other two were acquitted.

In a recently filed motion for a new trial, Lyman’s defense team questions the BLM’s authority to close the road into the canyon, arguing it is actually a protected RS 2477 public roadway. If closure of the road was illegal, then the ATV protest ride, and Lyman’s role in it, was not, attorneys said.

Lyman and Wells face up to a year in jail and fines of up to $100,000 for their roles in the protest ride. Federal persecutors are seeking jail time for both men and $95,000 in restitution for alleged damage done to archaeological artifacts by the protest ride.

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Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

 

 

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11 Comments

  • native born new mexican August 29, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    This is wonderful news! Now lets have a new trial as well- or just drop the whole stupid thing. The judge absolutely knew from the beginning that he had a big conflict of interest but he tried to get away with it anyway. He didn’t step down until he was caught. FOR SHAME! I have said many times that I believe only violent criminals should go to jail. I don’t think Mr. lyman should go to jail and I don’t think Mr. Dechristopher should have gone to prison even though I don’t agree with his view of things. He was no violent threat to anyone. Prison should not be used for anything except to stop violent, dangerous people from doing serious harm to others or to punish them for doing it when it is clear beyond a doubt that they did the crime.

  • beacon August 30, 2015 at 8:48 am

    Regardless of the judges association, his decision was the right one!

    • native born new mexican August 30, 2015 at 9:36 am

      When do the officials in the EPA go on trial and then go to prison for poisoning every one’s water ? They caused real harm. They did not just drive an ATV on an established road for a few miles to make a political statement about right and wrong. Where is the harm in what Mr. lyman did? Can you show me some broken pottery or something?

    • mesaman August 30, 2015 at 5:41 pm

      And you are privy to the details of the trial, right? Know what blow it out … means?
      Ed. ellipsis.

      • Dexter August 30, 2015 at 9:36 pm

        Hey Nolan… You got edited.! HA HA HA HA HA HA LOL.!

  • Bender August 30, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    Don’t do the crime if you can’t serve the time NATIVE. Right wing nut jobs aren’t above the law any more than common criminals. Funny how the far right embraces strict law and order until one of their own gets their hand caught in the cookie jar. On a related note, NATIVE, have you been examined by a professional regarding your extreme paranoia?

    • mesaman August 30, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      One of your more clever cliches, Bended? Funny how your liberal socialist mentality comes through when you comment. And you are qualified to diagnose the Native Born New Mexican’s mental state? Present your credentials, you cad.

      • Chris August 30, 2015 at 7:05 pm

        He’s as qualified as you are, Ashman, considering that your “advanced” degree comes from that bastion of erudition and research–UNLV. LOL, my high school was more rigorous than UNLV! Wish my middle name was Earl.

    • native born new mexican August 30, 2015 at 5:49 pm

      Bender you must not have read my first post. I said I thought Dechristopher should not have gone to prison. He in no way shares my views. I said I don’t believe in prison or jail except for violent criminals who do real harm to others. I don’t care what their politics are. I think it would serve you well to get caught doing some petty thing that causes no one any harm but you spend time in jail for it anyway. Some times we have to learn the lessons we we wish on others. Are you a common criminal?

      • Bender August 30, 2015 at 10:39 pm

        I understand NATIVE BORN NEW MEXICAN — you claim to believe in the rule of law, but when it get down to brass tacks, you really don’t. You reserve for yourself the option to ignore any law you deem unfair.

        • native born new mexican August 31, 2015 at 7:51 am

          I believe in the ten commandments and in the US constitution as it was originally written. I also believe in the golden rule which is a shorter version of the ten commandments. I Don’t believe in arbitrary man made rules – I would not have turned in Ann Frank for example. Yes I use my own moral judgement when it comes to man made laws. Thomas Jefferson is my guide when it comes to man”s laws. There are laws that should be disobeyed ask Mahatma Gandhi.

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