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Judge denies defense motion in oil lease case



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SALT LAKE CITY -- The University of Utah student accused of disrupting an oil and gas auction as a peaceful protest against global warming received a setback in court Monday.

Tim DeChristopher is becoming known to environmentalists across the country as a symbol of civil disobedience, but he's accused of breaking the law. Monday a judge sided with prosecutors on an important ruling.

The judge refused a defense request to turn over internal e-mails of the Bureau of Land Management. His lawyers are trying to show he's being selectively prosecuted for doing something idealistically that oil and gas people do for profit.

DeChristopher is now nationally known to environmentalists as "Bidder 70." He's even being shadowed by a documentary team working on a film by that title.

"Well, we think he did a very brave act, and is helping save our environment, and proving that civil disobedience has its place," says George Gage, co-producer of "Bidder 70."

DeChristopher's supporters argue that the oil and gas industry stands in the way of climate change reform and may have influenced the Bush administration in DeChristopher's case.

"When a prosecution is politically motivated, you can trace things back to money; and when you trace things back to money, you end up with the oil and gas industry," says Ashley Anderson, of the group Peaceful Uprising.

DeChristopher disrupted the 2008 auction by bidding and winning leases on numerous BLM parcels without intending to pay. Government documents indicate 28 industry people have done something roughly similar.

DeChristopher lawyer Pat Shea, a former BLM director, says industry people sometimes bid to take BLM parcels off the table, or with the intent to re-sell, and then withdraw payment.

"Tim's intent was to remove the parcels he bid on for much more virtuous reasons, namely climate change, but the effect was the same," Shea says.

"The question is not why he was prosecuted, [but] why everybody else wasn't," says Ron Yengich, the defense attorney representing DeChristopher.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney for Utah Scott Romney told the judge only DeChristopher did it with the intent to disrupt an auction.

"Mr. DeChristopher has not been discriminated against because of what he believes," Romney said. "He is being prosecuted because he committed a crime."

Judge Dee Benson refused defense requests for more documents.

"The court denied the selective prosecution hearing. We're pleased with that, and we look forward to trial," Romney says.

"This is one more chunk of information the jury is not going to get, so I think that's certainly a disappointment," DeChristopher says.

Meanwhile, DeChristopher's supporters are continuing to plan for a trial they hope will attract activists from around the world. They plan everything from street theater and concerts to protest marches and a mock trial outside the courtroom.

E-mail: jhollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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