Friday, December 18, 2015

Lyman’s predecessor says ‘an example needs to be made’ of Utah commissioner who led ATV protest

Monte Wells, Phil Lyman and their supporters will hear the pair's punishment Friday for their ATV protest ride down San Juan County's Recapture Canyon, which federal land managers closed to motorized use to protect ancient American Indian sites. Federal prosecutors are seeking an unspecified jail term for the misdemeanor convictions, while Lyman's supporters, which include prominent local and state political leaders across Utah, say the men have endured enough. Jail would make "no logical sense" for such civically engaged family men who pose no threat to society, supporters argued in letters to U.S. District Judge David Nuffer. A jury convicted the two of conspiracy, which holds them accountable for the conduct of the many protesters who drove the length of the closed portion of the canyon, over eight archaeological sites and through sensitive riparian areas. Lyman, a county commissioner and a Blanding accountant, organized the protest and led about 50 riders into the canyon, although he confined his ride to an existing road built in 1980s for servicing a pipeline below Recapture Dam. Wells, a former federal lawman and local blogger later appointed to the Monticello City Council, also drove in the canyon, but his crucial offense was promoting the ride on social media. Lyman's supporters say he has been maligned in the news media and was singled out for prosecution in an attempt by federal authorities to slap down local elected leaders who stand up to the Bureau of Land Management. Federal agencies oversee most of the land in Utah's rural counties and tensions have flared in recent years over what locals leaders complain is the BLM's undue deference to environmental groups. A prison sentence would only worsen the tensions between the feds and rural Utahns who believe the BLM ignores their concerns and interests, Lyman's lawyer Peter Stirba argued in court papers. "The court's decision will largely impact not only Mr. Lyman, but his constituents as well, at least in their perception of what is fundamentally fair in a case such as this. These citizens desperately want to believe in their government and its institutions; they already believe Mr. Lyman has been thoroughly punished and deterred," Stirba wrote in a sentencing memo. "A just, but merciful sentence by this court will be understood as a reflection of the judicial system's wisdom, and its inherent fairness and even-handedness." Lyman's critics contend the commissioner's actions were a dangerous insult to the rule of law and a stiff sentence is necessary to deter future abuses by anti-federal activists. Neither man has accepted full responsibility, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Bennett...more

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