SALT LAKE CITY — The legal team for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman claims a federal judge has a conflict of interest adjudicating the Recapture Canyon ATV ride case and has motioned that he disqualify himself.
In a motion filed Monday, Lyman’s attorney claimed that U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby’s friendship with a member of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which lobbied for charges to be filed against Lyman, prevents the judge from being impartial in the case.
Shelby recently disclosed during an unrelated civil lawsuit that he has a longtime friendship with SUWA legal director Steven Bloch and his wife. That relationship, he said, did not impact his ability to judge that case.
“In Mr. Lyman’s case, no such disclosure was made,” the motion states. “Further, the (other) litigation is a civil matter involving two large government entities. In contrast, Mr. Lyman’s case involves a federal criminal case in which Mr. Lyman’s liberty and personal reputation are at stake.”
The motion asks that Shelby disqualify himself from the case and that the issue be remanded until another judge can be randomly assigned.
Lyman and Monticello City Councilman Monte Wells were the lone participants convicted criminally for their actions in the May 2014 protest ride in San Juan County’s Recapture Canyon.
They were each found guilty earlier this year of one count of conspiracy to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles, and one count of operation of off-road vehicles on public lands closed to off-road vehicles
Two other men, Shane Marian and Franklin Holliday, were acquitted by the jury, and another man’s charges were dismissed by federal prosecutors.
Recapture Canyon, a popular, 11-mile, off-roading area, was closed by the Bureau of Land Management in 2007 over concerns of damage to ancestral Puebloan ruins. Many locals objected to the closure, asserting it was arbitrary and unnecessary, and thwarted a review process mandated by federal law.
San Juan County has sought right-of-way access in the canyon, a decision that has been pending for more than seven years.
Earlier this month, Lyman was granted a 60-day delay for sentencing, which is scheduled before Shelby on Sept. 15. Lyman faces up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine and one year of probation.