ATV protest ride organizer must find new attorney

ATV protest ride organizer must find new attorney

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An organizer of an ATV ride protesting what he called federal government overreach will have to find a new lawyer after a judge ruled Tuesday he can't keep his federally funded public defender.

Phil Lyman can pay for his own attorney to defend him from charges filed in connection with the May ride through a closed canyon in southeastern Utah, U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse ruled. She also ordered public defender Kent Hart to prepare a bill for the 50 hours his office has already spent on the case filed in September.

Furse sided with prosecutors who, in a rare move, challenged whether Lyman should get a court-appointed attorney.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber said Lyman makes about $40,000 a year as a part-time county commissioner, also draws income from an apparently successful accounting firm and owns several pieces of property worth some $650,000.

Hart argued those figures don't paint the whole picture, and said money isn't the government's only concern.

"At some point, I think the perception becomes this is beyond just an inquiry into finances, it becomes tangential to the case and could potentially become harassing," Hart said during the hearing.

Prosecutors acknowledged the situation was awkward but said they weren't trying to embarrass Lyman.

"In this case, it just seemed appropriate based on the public perception of what was happening," Huber said.

Lyman said after the hearing that he wanted to keep Hart because he's a good attorney, and his financial resources can't compete with the funding available to the government. Hart said he and Lyman respect the judge's decision.

Lyman and three other men have pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of conspiracy and illegal use of all-terrain vehicles in connection with the ride that brought about 50 people into Recapture Canyon to protest what they call the federal government's overreaching control of public lands.

The four are scheduled to go to trial March 24.

Bureau of Land Management officials closed the canyon to motorized vehicles to protect archaeological sites in 2007, but access to the canyon has long been a source of strain in the area.

The protest ride came shortly after a BLM confrontation with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and served as an illustration of growing tension between the federal government and Western residents.

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