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Trial Ordered for County Commissioner, Other Recapture Protestors

Leaders of an ATV ride into a closed canyon last year asked a court to dismiss the charges against them. But a federal judge ruled Wednesday that the trial will go forward.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and three others behind last May’s Recapture Canyon protest ride declined to comment after Wednesday’s court hearing.

They’d argued that Facebook and YouTube posts, and comments in other media, made them journalists and could not be used as proof of a conspiracy to break the law.

But U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby refused to throw out the charges against them on First Amendment grounds. Prosecutors and the judge asserted that it wasn’t what they said but what they did that led to the charges.

“The mere fact that this person is a reporter,” said Salt Lake City media lawyer Austin Riter, summarizing the prosecutor’s and the judge’s logic, “does not give them special privileges, special access rights or some kind of immunity from breaking a federal law or regulation.”

Lyman and four others face misdemeanor charges after leading dozens of motorized vehicles on a protest ride into the closed canyon last May, even though the U.S. Bureau of Land Management had put the canyon off limits to motorized travel years earlier to protect graves and archeological artifacts.

Lyman also claimed that he didn’t break any law because the Recapture Canyon road closure was invalid.

But Judge Shelby rejected that argument, too. He scheduled the four-day trial to begin on April 28. 

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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