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Lyman Sentencing Friday Revives Comparison to Climate Protestor

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s back in federal court this week. He’s being sentenced for organizing a protest ride into Recapture Canyon last year in a case that’s often compared with the prosecution of another person who challenged authority: climate-change activist Tim DeChristopher. 

Lyman, the southern Utah county commissioner who led dozens of ATV protestors into a closed canyon, has become a hero for some of Utah’s Sagebrush Rebels, and his legal fight’s prompted comparisons with DeChristopher. He’s the climate activist who served nearly two years in prison – also for protesting federal lands policy.

“I will say this: That comparison has come up a lot,” said Lyman in June. “I don’t think it’s fair to either one of us. I think Tim DeChristopher is a much braver person than I am.”

The county commissioner said this as he stood outside a closed-door session at the State Capitol, where the Constitutional Defense Council was considering using taxpayer money for his legal defense. He was talking to reporters when he commented on DeChristopher.

“He went in and signed, falsely signed an affidavit, went in and bid on $14 million in contracts,” Lyman said. “That takes a lot of guts. My hat was off to him then. My hat’s still off to him.  I thought he was over-prosecuted at the same time.”

The comparison hasn’t been lost on DeChristopher either. But, like Lyman, he says the cases are fundamentally different.

DeChristopher was at a White House protest last fall when he said in a telephone conversation that civil disobedience isn’t for insiders like Lyman. It’s for the powerless.

“It’s hard to say that it’s civil disobedience when it’s someone inside the power structure who is refusing to follow laws.” DeChristopher told KUER News. “Whatever Phil Lyman was doing as a part of that power structure, he wasn’t doing that.”

DeChristopher’s started a support organization called the Climate Disobedience Center, and he remains on probation until next spring.

Meanwhile, Lyman’s attorneys filed court papers recently calling the Recapture ride “a mistake” and seeking probation and restitution. But prosecutors are still seeking at least 10 months in prison. His sentencing is scheduled in federal court on Friday.

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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