County commissioners gathered in a state Capitol hearing room Wednesday seeking aid for one of their own. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s supporters left a pile of cash to help with his criminal case – but it didn’t include taxpayer money.
Lyman is the county commissioner who led dozens of four-wheelers onto a closed road in Recapture Canyon. Now he faces possible jail time and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution over his federal conviction for trespass and conspiracy.
“Phil Lyman stood up in front of his people, and he said, ‘I’ll help,’ “ said Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock. “And he was acting on their behalf, the people of San Juan County’s behalf – as a county commissioner.”
Supporters argued Lyman’s protest ride was also a stand on states’ rights in what one commissioner called a war that rural counties are fighting against the federal government. But the counties ultimately withdrew their funding request.
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said the state should keep its rural roads fight separate from Lyman’s criminal case.
“Because it’s so controversial,” he said, “I think it would take away from the very legitimate issues we have and are trying to work on with the federal government and against the federal government and that’s not the best way to handle things.”
Cox praised Lyman’s cause and encouraged supporters to contribute to his criminal defense -- like Gov. Gary Herbert did with a $10,000 pledge. Others declared their support and piled checks and cash on the witness stand.
But retiree Carolyn Wiggins testified that taxpayers like herself should not be liable for choices Lyman made.
“I’m so glad that all of you have decided to spend your own money to defend him, and that’s your right,” she told the council. “But, as far as I’m concerned, not one dollar of my money is going to go to that.”
Lyman quietly observed the meeting as a member of the audience. Afterward, he said that the Recapture ride was lawful and that he appreciated the support he’d gotten from people who recognized that.
This is an unofficial recording of the Constitutional Defense Council meeting of June 24, 2015 made by KUER News. Normally the council doesn’t record and post its meetings online as the Legislature does. Beginning at around 13 minutes, council members discuss a request by the Utah Association of Counties to establish a $100,000 legal defense fund for county commissioners. An hour-long gap in the recording starts at around 55 minutes, while council members and UAC officials meet in closed, “executive" session.
Just prior to that break, KUER News Reporter Judy Fahys objected to the Council’s closed discussion, saying it did not appear to fall into the exceptions permitted under the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act 52-4-205 (1)c. That section does say meetings can be closed for legal discussions, but specifies only for “strategy sessions to discuss pending or reasonably imminent litigation.”