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County Commissioner Looks Ahead to Federal Appeal

Judy Fahys/KUER
San Juan County Commissioner says the media and the federal court case that led to his conviction last year have left too many misperceptions about the Recapture Canyon protest ride he led in 2014. He's his own attorney for his pending appeal.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman is appealing his federal conviction for organizing an ATV protest ride nearly two years ago into Recapture Canyon. He’s scrapped his lawyers and is now handling his own defense. 

Lyman says a lot of misunderstanding still surrounds the federal court case that led to his conviction on criminal conspiracy and trespass charges last year. He and his supporters contend the federal Bureau of Land Management overstepped its authority in keeping water district right-of-way closed for so long. Lyman’s drafting a legal brief for his appeal that will give him a platform to talk about why they believe the ride through the archaeologically rich canyon wasn’t illegal.

“The reasons behind the protest have never been discussed,” he told KUER. “The most frustrating part is that we’re still dealing with ambiguities that threaten the relationships between people and BLM law enforcement. And I think it’s dangerous, and I think somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Lyman says the best way state and local officials could help him is by asserting that the protesters were within their rights to travel the Recapture Canyon road. And he says a new defense fund created by lawmakers this year will help county commissioners who clash with the federal government in the future.

“They have a lot of loose talk about threats that they face or fears that they have,” said Steve Bloch is legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “I just think it’s unfortunate.”

Bloch called it “outrageous and astounding” for lawmakers to put $250,000 of taxpayer money into the fund that’s based on what he describes as a false narrative. But, like Lyman, Bloch sees a potential for more, dangerous conflict.

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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