Jail time sought for official convicted in ATV protest ride

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Prosecutors want jail time for a county commissioner convicted of leading an ATV protest ride on an off-limits trail in a show of defiance against the federal government.

The U.S. Attorney's Office has requested jail terms for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and blogger Monte Wells, according to court documents filed Monday.

The documents don't specify a requested length for the terms but point out that one year is the maximum for the misdemeanor convictions. Prosecutors also want supervised release after jail, a fine and $96,000 in restitution. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 15.

Authorities argue that jail time is warranted due to the defendants' disrespect for the law and necessary to deter similar criminal acts.

Lyman's attorneys filed a motion Tuesday requesting that the verdict be thrown out and a new trial granted.

Attorneys Anneli Smith and Neil Kaplan argued that new evidence shows Lyman was on a right-of-way road that cannot legally be closed by the Bureau of Land Management.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby didn't allow defense attorneys to argue that point during a May trial. Instead, the lawyers contended the ride was a lawful, political protest by people who believed they had a right to be in a canyon based partly on what they interpreted as approval from the Bureau of Land Management state director.

A jury found Lyman and Wells guilty of misdemeanor charges of illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy. It acquitted two other people. Each count carries a potential penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of $100,000.

Smith was not immediately available for further comment. Wells' attorney Nathan Crane declined comment, saying he hadn't read the recommendations closely yet.

In May 2014, Lyman and about 50 others rode their ATVs on a trail off-limits to vehicles in a canyon that cuts through ruins that are nearly 2,000 years old and home to dwellings, artifacts and burials left behind by Ancestral Puebloans hundreds of years ago, before they disappeared. There were no confrontations during the ride.

The protest was organized shortly after Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy had a standoff with the BLM over similar issues, illustrating the simmering tension between the federal government and some residents in the West over land use.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert recently asked the state attorney general to investigate whether the federal government acted illegally to close the canyon trail that was the site of the ATV protest. The action by the governor came after state lawmakers donated cash from their pockets to help defend Lyman.

Both sides are still awaiting a ruling on a request from Lyman's attorney to have U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby removed from the case.

The lawyer said Shelby is biased due to his longtime friendship with Steve Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Association. Bloch's organization was not a party in the case, but Lyman says the environmental group has advocated for a stiff sentence for Lyman.

Prosecutors say the claim against the judge is unfounded and that Bloch played no role in the decision to charge Lyman. They say the environmental group joined with other organizations in sending a letter asking for punishment commensurate with the severity of the crime, but Bloch didn't personally contact Shelby.

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