2nd federal judge cites conflict of interest in illegal ATV ride case

2nd federal judge cites conflict of interest in illegal ATV ride case

(Alan Neves/KSL-TV/File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — A second federal judge wants off the illegal ATV ride case against San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, citing a conflict of interest.

U.S. District Judge Jill N. Parrish filed a notice Thursday saying she will not hear the case unless all the parties agree that she should stay on.

Parrish wrote in court papers that as an assistant U.S. attorney from 1995 to 2003, she represented the Bureau of Land Management in the federal government's ongoing dispute over right-of-way claims on rural roads in Utah. She cited three different cases involving Garfield County, Millard County and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

A former Utah Supreme Court justice, Parrish was appointed to the federal bench in May.

The Lyman case was randomly assigned to Parrish after Judge Robert J. Shelby recused himself due to his close friendship with SUWA legal director Stephen Bloch. The conservation group had reportedly urged the government to prosecute Lyman for his protest ride in Recapture Canyon and joined other organizations in asking the court to impose a stiff sentence.

Lyman filed a motion in July asking that Shelby be removed from the case because of his undisclosed friendship with Bloch.

Shelby presided over a jury trial in which Lyman and Monticello City Councilman Monte Wells were convicted of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles and operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles.

Lyman and Wells were scheduled to be sentenced on the misdemeanor charges Sept. 15, but the hearing was postponed. Federal prosecutors recommend they spend up to a year in prison and pay fines up to $30,000 and restitution totaling $95,955.


The two men have also filed a motion for a new trial, claiming the BLM failed to properly show that the road running through Recapture Canyon is in fact protected as a public right of way. They say that means they can't be legally faulted for leading and riding with a group of protestors who were angry about the federal government's designation of the land.

The BLM closed the canyon to off-road vehicles in 2007, citing damage to cultural artifacts in the area, but let other authorized uses continue on some sections, such as use by the San Juan County Water Conservancy District.

Shelby did not allow defense attorneys for Lyman and Wells to argue about the road closure during the trial because the court had already found it legal.

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