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Defendant appeals conviction in ATV protest ride case

Alan Neves/KSL-TV/File

Defendant appeals conviction in ATV protest ride case

By Dennis Romboy | Posted - Jan. 12, 2016 at 6:28 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY — San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman walked into the federal courthouse just before closing Tuesday to appeal his conviction for an illegal ATV protest ride in a southern Utah canyon — without a lawyer.

Lyman "for right now, I guess" is representing himself in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. He said he doesn't know if he'll hire an attorney.

"I really don't have plans as far as that goes. It's kind of my first go at this, so I don't know. I'm just kind of playing it by ear," he said.

Monticello City Councilman Monte Wells' attorney, Nathan Crane, filed a notice in federal court that Wells also will take the case to the Denver-based appeals court. Tuesday was the deadline for both men to seek an appeal.

Specifically, Wells is appealing a judge's denial of his motion to dismiss the charges, his conviction after a jury trial and his motion for a new trial, according to documents filed in U.S. District Court.

Crane said while he respects the jury's verdict, he disagrees with it.

"We still think that our defense that he had permission to use a right-of-way on that trail is still valid and that will be in part what we'll be asking the 10th Circuit to review," Crane said.

Judge David Nuffer sentenced Lyman to 10 days in jail and Wells to five days last month after a jury found them guilty of misdemeanor conspiracy and trespassing charges. The judge also imposed 36 months of probation and $96,000 in restitution on them.

Lyman and Wells organized and participated in an ATV ride in Recapture Canyon to protest federal land management practices. About 50 people took part in the May 2014 ride, including some who carried guns.

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The Bureau of Land Management closed parts of the canyon to off-road vehicles in 2007, citing damage to cultural artifacts in the area. Many locals objected to the closure, asserting it was arbitrary and unnecessary, and bypassed a review process mandated by federal law.

Defense lawyers argued at trial that BLM state director Juan Palma and the San Juan Water Conservancy District, which has a right-of-way in the canyon to maintain an irrigation pipeline, gave Lyman and Wells permission to ride on the trail.

Lyman said he never viewed it as permission from Palma, but consent, which is one argument he might make on appeal.

"He recognized the road I was driving on was not closed," Lyman said. "It's on the county's travel plan. It's a county road. … I've never really quite figured out how that section of road could have created so much ambiguity or confusion with the case and the media and the attorneys and everything else."

Prosecutors during the trial cited emails from Lyman to Palma asking for his help to turn the illegal ride into a legal one. Palma told Lyman he would not authorize ATVs in the canyon and that the BLM would seek criminal and civil penalties if riders violated the closure order, prosecutors said.

Palma testified that he appealed to Lyman not to ride ATVs in the canyon.

Lyman isn't scheduled to report to jail until after April. Wells anticipates serving his time starting next week, Crane said.

Lyman called his attorney, Peter Stirba, "fantastic" but said that he had only contracted with him through the sentencing. "It's just resources and stuff come into play," Lyman said.

Last June, conservative Republican state legislators, county commissioners and even Gov. Gary Herbert rallied to Lyman's defense, pledging thousands of dollars for his appeal.

Lyman said the $4,600 he received didn't go very far. He has yet to see the $10,000 that Herbert said he would contribute.

Herbert's campaign spokesman Marty Carpenter said Lyman asked that the money be directed to the Recapture Institute, a newly created nonprofit organization. Its goal is "to educate and raise awareness to constitutional principles of federalism, public land use and related research including archaeology, species, soil, mineral, grazing, and other agriculture related matters," according to its website.

Carpenter said the governor is withholding the donation until the Recapture Institute has its IRS status finalized.

"We will make the donation once there is a legal route for us to do so," he said.

Lyman said the governor doesn't owe him anything. He said he appreciates the state filing a lawsuit contesting the status of the Recapture Canyon road. He said if the money goes to the institute, he would not use it for legal costs.

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Dennis Romboy

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