New trial date set for DeChristopher

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has formally set a new trial date for environmental activist Timothy DeChristopher, asserting that serving "the ends of justice" outweigh the college student's right to a speedy trial.

The order issued Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson sets DeChristopher's trial for Feb. 28, with jury selection to begin at 11 a.m. on Feb. 25.

DeChristopher, 28, was indicted in April of 2009 on federal charges of violating an onshore oil and gas leasing act and making a false statement in connection with a December Bureau of Land Management auction in Salt Lake City.

An economics major at the University of Utah, DeChristopher has said he acted on "moral imperative" to monkey-wrench the auction by deliberately bidding on parcels of land he had no intention of paying for. The BLM holds quarterly auctions, offering up land that the agency has deemed suitable for oil and gas development.

His trial, which had been set for December, was officially bumped to February by the judge, who said "the ends of justice served by delaying the trial" outweigh the interests of the public and the defendant.

"The court finds that failure to grant a continuance would result in a miscarriage of justice where counsel for the defendant and counsel for the United States have invested so much time and effort into the action, and have developed an invaluable expertise regarding the issues in the case," the order reads.

DeChristopher has been highly critical of land development policies that further dependence on fossil fuels, saying such pursuits endanger the lives of generations to come.

Two months after DeChristopher was escorted out of the auction in handcuffs by police, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew 77 of the parcels that had been offered in Salt Lake City, saying they were located too close to "iconic" landscapes. A review by an Interior Department team sent to Utah at Salazar's request deemed eight of the parcels fit that category, others could be released while still more remain under review.

In justifying his decision to pull all of them, Salazar said the parcels were only offered as a result of a rushed "midnight" decision by the Bush administration in the waning hours of the former president's time in office.

A subsequent independent audit found no evidence that BLM officials in Utah were pressured to offer the parcels at auction.

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