Judge blocks bid to increase restitution payments for Utah legislator’s part in 2014 ATV protest

This 2014 file photo shows an ATV protest ride through Recapture Canyon. near Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A federal judge has rejected an increase in restitution payments being made by a former San Juan County commissioner for an illegal ATV protest ride in a Utah canyon, court records said.

In this 2014 file photo, then-San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman speaks at a protest rally against BLM at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

U.S. District Judge David Nuffer blocked the federal government’s attempt to force Phil Lyman to increase his monthly payment from $100 to $500, The Deseret News reported Monday.

Nuffer ruled that the government wrongly assumed Lyman retained his commission seat after his election to the Utah House and that his $1,023 monthly legislative pay was in addition to his county salary.

Lyman’s monthly payments are going toward a total restitution of $95,055 assessed after a jury found Lyman guilty in 2015 of misdemeanor illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy for organizing a 2014 protest ride through a canyon closed to vehicles due to the presence of Native American cliff dwellings. Lyman said he was challenging federal management of Western public lands.

Lyman makes $25,000 less annually since he gave up his commission seat and began serving in the Legislature, he said. The accountant from Blanding did not reveal how much he makes from his private business.

However, Nuffer ordered Lyman to provide his 2017, 2018 and 2019 tax returns to the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office no later than May.

Prosecutors said Lyman’s financial circumstances changed after his election to the House and that he had a “heightened moral obligation” to pay. Lyman says the U.S. Attorney’s Office is harassing him due to political motives.

Nuffer’s ruling said Lyman does not appear intent on avoiding restitution payments and did not argue the payment should be decreased.

“Instead, Mr. Lyman’s opposition focuses more on grievances against the federal government and the news media in a futile attempt to have his restitution overturned in its entirety,” the judge wrote. “That request will not be entertained.”

While Nuffer stated Lyman seemed intent on continuing payments, court documents from March showed Lyman had a $90,105 balance on his restitution. The judgment against him will expire in April 2036, and at his current rate of payments, court documents indicate he would pay only another $20,500 before that date. If he were to pay $500 a month, he would have restitution paid in full by 2034.

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