Lyman was found guilty by a jury in early May of conspiracy against the federal government. The charges stem from the illegal ATV ride Lyman and three other co-defendants promoted on social media, encouraging people to knowingly commit a misdemeanor and ride ATV’s across restricted roads.
“The BLM does a good job of trumping up [charges],” Lyman said to the media at the time. “They have proven they can create a crime out of a non-crime. Of course, I’m nervous about what the federal government can do.”
It appears that Lyman’s allies on Capitol Hill agree. Early in the day, the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands gave the initial approval to release the funds while the Legislative Management Committee gave final approval just hours later.
Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) would argue to the Public Lands Commission that Lyman was riding on land that should have been property of the state, in spite of legal posturing by groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Alliance for a Better Utah, as well as federal inaction. Noel would go on to imply that Lyman should act as a warning to the citizens of the state of how misguided land policy can be.
Noel and other lawmakers have spearheaded to transfer lands back to the state in recent years and argued that, had the federal government acted quicker and with less bureaucracy, the road Lyman was illegally riding on would have been state property and potentially legal to ride on. The act of civil disobedience by Lyman, Noel argued, would help advance the state’s interest in pressing this issue forward in the courts; therefore the state had an obligation to support Lyman.
“We cannot get a road to court because we have no case or controversy. If we try to go to court and say ‘you guys have not allowed us to maintain this road or you have not allowed us to go and get title on this road,'” Noel stated to justify the propping up Lyman, “[but the federal government] does not want to give [the land] to us.”
“[Charges against Lyman have] a chilling effect on every county commissioner and every public official in this state that has the obligation to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the state. When a county commissioner or a legislator has to be afraid of our own Justice Department… we have a problem.” Noel concluded before asking the body to consider tapping the state’s Constitutional Defense Council to show public support for Lyman’s actions.
Some lawmakers, however, were not eager to divert tax dollars to support Lyman.
“Does this committee really want to get involved in such an obviously judicial decision such as ‘was the law broken?'”Senator Jim Dabakis (Democrat – Salt Lake City) asked the group. “For this committee to get themselves involved in clearly judicial proceedings is, I believe, completely inappropriate.”
Dabakis went on to note that civil disobedience and protesting are important parts of our system, but if an individual is to take such actions they have to “do the time” and accept their punishments.
Senator Scott Jenkins (Republican – Plain City) would counter Dabakis’s claims that the state shouldn’t get involved by stating that “In my mind this is ‘yes, we do want to support this because this is a state’s rights and Constitutional issue.'” Representative Mel Brown (Republican – Coalville) would ultimately make the motion to support Lyman financially by stating that “it was time to take a stand.”
Brown would later state that Lyman’s case was “ridiculous” and that there was “no case at all. We ought to be marching.”
Representative Joel Briscoe (Democrat – Salt Lake City) would conclude before the final vote in the Public Lands Commission that his principal objection was that taxpayer funds were being used on a court case that primarily benefits one mode of thought for the citizens of Utah.
“There are numerous private groups that believe in these causes… so where are the people who think [this case is the way to chip away at the federal government]?” Briscoe concluded.
The funds were approved along party lines in both committees and now goes to the Constitutional Defense Council for final action.