San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, Monte Wells, Shane Marian and Trent Holliday each face two federal misdemeanor charges for their role in the protest.
They are charged with conspiring to organize the ride and then participating in the ride. The event was organized to protest the 2007 closure of portions of Recapture Canyon to motorized traffic by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
The trial will begin before Federal Judge Robert Shelby on April 28, 2015. It may take several days.
On April 1, 2015, Judge Shelby rejected a motion by three of the defendants to dismiss the conspiracy charges. Attorneys representing Lyman, Wells, and Marian argued a number of points, including that they have a First Amendment right to protest.
After hearing arguments from both sides, Judge Shelby rejected the motion. He stated that a jury should determine the merits of the case through the trial process.
Lyman had argued that the charges should be dismissed for three reasons. This includes his argument that he has a Constitutionally-protected right to free speech, that the charging documents did not adequately outline the conspiracy charge, and that the BLM closure had expired and the canyon was not actually closed.
Judge Shelby rejected all three arguments.
U.S. Attorneys responded to the motion by stating that “Mr. Lyman’s right to free speech neither provides him with a right to commit a crime nor a right not to be tried.”
Regarding the argument that the charging documents did not adequately outline the conspiracy, Judge Shelby stated, “The allegation is that the four of you conspired to illegally ride in the canyon, and then you went and did it.”
US Attorneys argued that the 2007 BLM closure was still in place. They state that a new BLM policy to expedite the temporary closures was instituted two years after the closure and is not applicable to the Recapture Canyon case.
The BLM has stated that “the closure order will remain in effect until adverse impacts that led to the closure are ameliorated and measures are in place to prevent recurrence.”
Wells, who operates a website that reported on the protest, argued that he was merely a journalist similar to other news outlets that reported on the event and, thus, should not be charged as a conspirator.
US Attorneys argued that the First Amendment does not provide those who report the news with a right to commit crime or a right not to be tried.
They state that although Wells may rely on the First Amendment as a defense at trial, he cannot rely on it to avoid a trial.
Recapture Canyon is adjacent to the community of Blanding and has remained in a mostly pristine condition, alongside Blanding, for more than 100 years. Portions of the canyon were closed to motorized traffic in 2007 after unauthorized road construction was discovered by the BLM.
After the 2007 closure, two Blanding residents were fined $35,000 for the construction of a new trail in the canyon.
The closure was called temporary, but remains in place eight years later.
Approximately 200 protesters attended the 2014 protests, including more than 50 who rode motorized vehicles on a new trail carved through a portion of the canyon.
Five men were initially charged by the federal government on September 17, 2014. Charges against Jay Redd were dismissed in November, 2014.
The four remaining defendants appeared at the initial hearing before Judge Shelby without legal representation. They all received court-appointed attorneys. Judge Shelby later ruled that Commissioner Lyman was not eligible to receive a court-appointed attorney.