State won’t pay commissioner’s legal expenses; politicians donate privately

SALT LAKE CITY – Taxpayers won’t be paying San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s legal costs, which are attached to a potential appeal of a conviction connected to last year’s ATV protest ride through Recapture Canyon near Blanding.

The Utah Association of Counties had asked the state’s Constitutional Defense Council for $100,000 to aid with Lyman’s legal expenses. However, that request was withdrawn during a meeting of the Constitutional Defense Council Wednesday. The decision came in the wake of a closed-door meeting between the council and association.

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox told Fox 13 that legal counsel had advised against the state funding Lyman’s appeal, as there was no legal precedent for it and it raised conflicts with lawyers. Cox nonetheless encouraged others to privately donate to Lyman’s potential appeal.

Commissioners from rural counties began dropping money on a table, both Fox 13 and The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Fox 13 reported the estimated amount raised at the meeting was around $5,500.

Gov. Gary Herbert also pledged $10,000.

Lyman, along with Monticello City Councilman Monte Wells, was found guilty of federal misdemeanor counts of conspiracy and driving motorized vehicles through public lands closed to vehicle use. The charges stem from last year’s ATV protest ride into Recapture Canyon, during which Lyman and others rode ATVs into a part of the canyon that had been closed by the Bureau of Land Management since 2007.

“He put himself on the line and he’ll go to prison for his cause,” Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock said, as reported by Fox 13.

Pollock also donated money toward Lyman’s possible appeal.

Lyman and Wells are expected to be in federal court July 15 for sentencing. They face the possibility of a year in jail, a $100,000 fine each, and a potential six-digit amount in restitution costs.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Rep. Mike Noel said Lyman could face a restitution cost of up to $400,000 for alleged damage done to the archaeological sites in the canyon.

The BLM has maintained the reason it closed access to Recapture Canyon was to protect what it claims are archaeologically sensitive sites within it.

County commissioners and others in attendance voiced their displeasure over how the media had portrayed Lyman and criticized federal Judge Robert Shelby, who presided over Lyman’s case.

“Media was convicting him and saying a lot of incorrect information, portraying him as a rotten guy,” Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner, who was at the meeting, said. 

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, Noel said he believes the prosecution and Shelby withheld information that would have benefited Lyman’s case. Gardner echoed that sentiment.

There are just all kinds of inappropriate things that happened,” Gardner said, adding Shelby disallowed any evidence related to the use of the road, which included alleged permission from the BLM to legally enter the canyon.

“It was a sad situation,” Gardner said. 

Lyman and his supporters maintain they 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 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 three other men with federal-level misdemeanor charges for their parts in the ride. One man had charges dropped against him, while the other two were acquitted by the same jury that convicted Lyman and Wells.

Though a question of funding an appeal is what brought county commissioners and state officials together Wednesday, they said the larger issue relates to road access matters.

“There are legitimate issues surrounding road closures, and those are the things we should be looking at,” Cox told Fox 13. “Those get lost the minute we’re using taxpayer dollars for this.”

Following the meeting, Lyman told reporters he wasn’t certain if he would appeal his conviction, though he is consulting with attorneys about it. He also said he wasn’t asking taxpayers to pay for it.

I don’t have a plan to appeal,” Lyman said, as reported by Fox 13. “I’m talking to attorneys to find out what the options are.”

According to Utah Political, some of the county commissioners who attended the Constitutional Defense Council meeting said they were concerned that Lyman’s case would have a “chilling effect” on their own efforts on behalf of constituents.

“The commissioners are very upset,” Gardner said. “… It’s an attack on rural county commissioners.”

Following his conviction in May, Lyman told reporters it was “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.

Gardner was among the many officials who donated money toward Lyman’s potential appeal.

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Twitter: @MoriKessler

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

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  • native born new mexican June 25, 2015 at 10:17 am

    I support Mr. Lyman. It takes courage to stand up to bullies. You often have to pay a price for it. KEEP STANDING UP! The feds will keep pushing until enough people push bag hard enough to stop them. I know there are many people who read the St George; see things the way Mr. Lyman sees them and have a back bone. Lets each of us think about what we can individually do to support him and all rural county commissioners on these issues.

    • Simone June 25, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      As a public official he was charged with upholding the law on the books whether or not he disagreed with it. He could have worked within the system to change the law if he didn’t like it. Obviously, he didn’t do that. He broke the law. He got caught. Now he wants us to feel bad for him? Sorry, that’s just not the way that works. He broke the law now he has to pay the piper.

      • native born new mexican June 25, 2015 at 11:34 pm

        There is no law. Laws are the things our elected legislators vote on up at the capital. Are you talking about the arbitrary regulations that some un elected bureaucrats made up? No their self serving regulations do not get the same respect from me as a law my elected legislator voted on. The feds and their unconstitutional mandates need to go away. We are a republic which means we vote for representatives who then make decisions and VOTE on what should be a law punishable by a fine and or jail, I insist that is the way it should happen. I will not respect dictators.

        • KarenS June 26, 2015 at 7:50 am

          Under Native Born’s logic, I guess I should feel justified to ride my ATV right up to Delicate Arch since unelected bureaucrats made the rules against it. After all, my legislators didn’t pass a law that said that I couldn’t. Those bullies in the National Park Service made up those rules and, of course, they are the “feds” that Native Born “needs to go away”. Kind of ironic, just like those pictures of Cliven Bundy riding around on his horse with the US Flag but only respecting his local sheriff. Defies logic.

  • KarenS June 25, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    The consequences of the event for which Mr. Lyman was charged and convicted was well-known to all beforehand. He had been warned by the BLM exactly what would happen if he rode his ATV into the canyon. For Alan Gardner to say it is an attack on rural county commissioners is ridiculous. Civil disobedience is all well and good but one has to take responsibility when convicted. Whining about the judge and the media is a sad and sorry excuse.

    • 42214 June 25, 2015 at 6:49 pm

      “Woe is Me”, I mean Native Born New Mexican whines about everything

      • fun bag June 25, 2015 at 7:43 pm

        he might be the biggest crybaby on the site…

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