San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and Monticello resident Monte Wells are scheduled to be sentenced on September 15 in the US District Court in Salt Lake City.
They will see a new face behind the bar at the sentencing after Federal Judge Robert Shelby, on August 28, recused himself from further proceedings in the matter.
In July, Lyman’s attorneys had filed a motion stating that Shelby should be disqualified because of his personal relationship with the legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).
Shelby stated that, until the motion was filed, he was unaware of any involvement in the proceeding by SUWA – which is not a party to the case. However, after the conviction, SUWA and other groups submitted a letter seeking to influence the court sentencing decision.
In his motion, Shelby said that his recusal will “promote confidence in these proceedings and avoid even the appearance of impropriety in connection with the court’s sentencing duties.”
In a related matter earlier in the week, attorneys representing the US government outlined their position regarding sentencing in the case. They seek jail time for Lyman and Wells.
According to the US Attorneys, the request is made because the defendant’s actions “amount to a calculated, mass defiance of the criminal law.”
The motion states that “instead of choosing... numerous legally-permissable mechanisms to express their disagreement with federal decision, the defendants chose crime.”
It adds that the crimes include “recruiting dozens of others to join them in breaking the law.”
As a result, the US Attorney’s office is seeking a number of penalties for Wells and Lyman, including “a reasonable term of incarceration”, a term of supervised release, a fine, and restitution in the amount of $95,955.61.
Lyman and Wells were each convicted of two counts related to the May 10, 2014 protest. The event was held to protest the 2007 closure of portions of Recapture Canyon to motorized traffic by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the subsequent years of delay to resolve the closure.
On the day of the event, a large group of people participated in a protest rally in Blanding, before a group traveled through portions of the canyon. Lyman crossed the closure boundary but stayed on a pipeline maintenance road during the protest. Several dozen ATVs traveled further on a more primitive road through the canyon.
The BLM initially stated that the protest ride caused $172,302.70 in damages. A subsequent filing put the damages at $95,955.61.
Lyman and Wells were convicted after a four-day jury trial. Two other San Juan County men were acquitted by the jury. Each conviction includes a possible sentence of up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Using sentencing guidelines, the US Attorney says that the potential incarceration is ten to 12 months for Lyman, with a fine between $3,000 and $30,000.
Similarly, the potential incarceration is six to to 12 months for Wells, with a fine between $2,000 and $20,000. Restitution and supervised release could be above and beyond the incarceration and fine.
As of the press deadline on August 31, it is not known if the sentencing will be delayed again. The initial sentencing was scheduled to take place on July 15, but was delayed to September 15 after Lyman hired a new attorney.
On August 25, attorneys for Lyman filed a motion requesting a new trial for the charges. They argue that the case should be retried because “newly discovered exculpatory evidence suggests that Lyman was on a R.S. 2477 right-of-way that could not be closed to off-road vehicles by the BLM.”
The motion claims that a 1979 BLM map appears to show a road leading through Recapture Canyon. In a related affidavit, Utah Representative Mike Noel said that the map identifies “a public highway running south through the entire length of Recapture Canyon” from the dam site all the way to another main route.
In the motion for a new trial, Lyman’s attorneys argue that the government inadvertently violated the law by failing to disclose the evidence of the R.S. 2477 right-of-way.
In addition, the State of Utah has informed the BLM that it intends to file a lawsuit to claim a road right-of-way on the road through Recapture Canyon.