SALT LAKE CITY – The lawyers for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman want the judge involved in the Recapture Canyon ATV protest ride case to remove himself due to a possible conflict of interest.
In a motion filed Monday, Lyman’s attorneys ask federal Judge Robert Shelby to disqualify himself from the case due to his friendship with a member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. According to the motion, the environmental group had been “actively involved in seeking the prosecution of Mr. Lyman.”
Lyman, along with Monticello City Councilman and blogger Monte Wells, were both found guilty by a jury for their roles in the May 2014 ATV protest ride into Recapture Canyon in San Juan County. Both were found guilty of federal misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and driving motorized vehicles through public lands closed to vehicle use. Two other defendants in the case, Shane Marian and Franklin Holiday, were acquitted by the jury.
Lyman’s lawyers argue in the motion that Shelby’s ability to be impartial in their client’s case is in question due to his friendship with Steven Bloch, SUWA’s legal director.
Recently, in an unrelated case involving Utah’s civil suit connected to R.S. 2744 roads, Shelby disclosed his friendship with Bloch and his wife. Lyman’s lawyers provided a transcript of Shelby’s disclosure in the motion:
I just wanted to start with a disclosure, Steve Bloch, on behalf of SUWA, 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…
…And so long as Mr. Bloch’s not involved in our case, I intend to remain in the case, but I wanted to make that disclosure.
“In Mr. Lyman’s case, no such disclosure was made,” the motion states. “Further, the R.S. 2477 litigation case is between two large government agencies. In contrast, Mr. Lyman’s case involves a federal criminal case in which Mr. Lyman’s liberty and personal reputation are at stake.”
SUWA “strongly urged” prosecution in the case, the lawyers said in the motion, and noted that Bloch and other SUWA officials attended the entirety of Lyman’s multi-trial.
Lyman and Wells are scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in September. Both face the possibility of a year in jail, a $100,000 fine each and possibly more in restitution for alleged damage done to archaeological sites during the protest ride.
Lyman and his supporters said the protest ride into Recapture Canyon was in response to the BLM repeatedly refusing to work with the county to find a favorable solution concerning the canyon’s closure. Many locals also felt the 2007 closure was arbitrary and bypassed a federally mandated review process.
Lyman said the protest riders had permission from the BLM to take ATVs on a preexisting right-of-way road that allowed access to a pipe maintained by the county’s water district. Lyman’s defense has argued that the ATV group never left the road and no damage was done.
The BLM has said no such permission was ever granted and proceeded to charge Lyman, Wells and the others following the incident.
Following Lyman’s conviction, the Utah Association of Counties asked the state’s Constitutional Defense Council for $100,000 to aid with Lyman’s legal expenses. However, the request was withdrawn due to potential legal concerns.
In response, many rural Utah county commissioners, including Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner, personally donated funds to Lyman’s defense costs. Gov. Gary Herbert also pledged $10,000. In all, over $15,000 was raised at the time.
Lyman has stated that his situation is “a shout-out to county officials that they do not have jurisdiction in their counties” and that county commissioners who followed suit were in “grave jeopardy” of facing similar treatment from the federal government.
- State won’t pay commissioner’s legal expenses; politicians donate privately
- Resolution supports legal rights of commissioner involved in ATV protest ride
- San Juan County Commissioner found guilty for role in Recapture Canyon ATV protest at Blanding
- Blanding: OHV riders, militia protest BLM, ride through Recapture Canyon; STGnews Photo Gallery (UPDATED) – May 2014
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