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Judge Orders County Commissioner to Pay for Own Defense in Recapture Canyon Case

Judy Fahys
San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman leads a rally before protesters ride into Recapture Canyon.

A federal judge has decided that San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman can afford legal counsel and will not be allowed to use a court appointed public defender. Lyman is facing charges related to his participation in a protest on federal land.

Phil Lyman is charged with two federal misdemeanors for conspiring to organize and participate in an illegal ATV ride through Recapture Canyon in southeastern Utah that occurred in May. Until Tuesday’s decision, Lyman had been using a court appointed defense attorney who had done more than 50 hours of work on the case already. But the prosecuting attorneys representing the government argued that Lyman makes enough money to disqualify him from getting a public defender.

They pointed to at least three streams of income and several properties that he owns, including a 5,500 sq. ft. home assessed to be worth $388 thousand. U.S. Magistrate Judge Evelyn Furse agreed with the prosecution and has ordered Lyman to find his own counsel, and pay back the government for the services he’s already received.

A trial date has been set for early next year, but will likely be delayed to give Lyman time to hire a new attorney. 

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