Thursday, June 07, 2018

A closed gate, a lawsuit and the First Amendment

Couple faces trial after closing cattle gate on public land in Utah 

One thing is undisputed: On April 1, 2017, Mark Franklin closed a corral gate on state trust lands between the small towns of Bluff and Mexican Hat, in southeastern Utah. Public lands in the area are specifically contentious, as its on the edges of Bears Ears National Monument, which has been used as a political volleyball for years. After the gate-closing incident, San Juan County prosecutors charged Franklin, along with his wife, Rose Chilcoat, with multiple felonies including “attempted wanton destruction of livestock,” alleging the couple were intentionally trying to prevent a rancher’s cattle from reaching a critical water source. Both sides in the case, however, also acknowledge there was a 10-foot section of downed fence nearby that allowed the cows to move freely into the corral. According to testimony, Franklin said he though he was helping out the rancher by closing the gate. In November 2017, a judge in the case ordered the couple to stand trial for the charges, which if upheld, carry a sentence of 15 years in prison, says the couple’s lawyer Paul Cassell. National and local conservation and environmental organizations fear the charges and impending trial could set a dangerous precedent for governments to arrest and charge private citizens and environmentalists for monitoring public lands. Defending the charges, prosecutors cited Chilcoat’s history and involvement with the conservation group Great Old Broads for Wilderness as proof of her husband’s felonious intent. According to court documents, they argue it’s “a reasonable inference that Defendant Chilcoat’s public beliefs against livestock grazing on the public lands could have been a contributing factor in the Defendant’s actions with the gate.”...MORE

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