- Associated Press - Thursday, May 28, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A Utah lawmaker said Thursday he plans to ask for state money to help pay the legal bills of a county commissioner convicted of federal misdemeanor charges in an ATV ride protesting federal control of public lands.

Republican Rep. Mike Noel, of Kanab, said San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman didn’t get a fair hearing because the jury didn’t hear evidence about whether the protest was in a legally closed area.

“It’s not just about Phil Lyman, it’s about the precedent and the chilling effect it has on public officials to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens,” Noel said.

Lyman and blogger Monte Wells were found guilty earlier this month.

Noel said he plans to request about $50,000 from the state’s Constitutional Defense Council in the coming weeks to help fund a possible appeal. The council controls money set aside by the Legislature for legal battles with the federal government over things like control of county roads and the state’s fight to wrest control of public land.

One member of the council, Sen. Gene Davis, said he’d vote against such a request, which was first reported by the Salt Lake Tribune.

“For a person supposed to obey the law, he went beyond that, I think,” said Davis, a Salt Lake City Democrat. “Should we allow every criminal who doesn’t agree with the actions that are taken by the courts to use state dollars to appeal?”

The protest ride drew about 50 people to southern Utah’s Recapture Canyon to protest what the participants considered government overreach.

The Bureau of Land Management said it closed the canyon in 2007 to motorized vehicles to protect ancient ruins, dwellings, artifacts. Residents in the area, though, say they have used the ATV trail for generations and the closure was only supposed to be temporary. The BLM disagrees.

U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby shot down Lyman’s claim that the government didn’t take proper steps to make clear the trail was closed to ATVs when he refused to toss the case last month.

The misdemeanor charges of illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy each carry a potential penalty of up to a year in jail and a fine of $100,000.

Lyman said Thursday he’s not sure what his next legal step will be. Noel said the scope of a possible appeal will depend on what happens at sentencing scheduled for July.


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