The Utah State Legislature previously organized, authorized, and funded a regulatory body known as the Constitutional Defense Council (CDC) — which is charged with the responsibility of determining the validity, and more importantly, the feasibility of using public monies to hire lawyers and defend the transfer of public lands from the federal government to the state.
Representative Mike Noel (Republican – Kanab) requested from a legislative interim committee that the CDC be authorized to formally support San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who was recently convicted of conspiracy and misdemeanor trespass into Recapture Canyon last year. This Wednesday, the CDC will determine, and likely authorize, Lyman’s further defense to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
His conviction, along with that of Monte Wells, stemmed from a 2014 protest ride of ATV-OHV users who believed that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has had that specific canyon closed to motorized traffic for far too long. The riders, mostly long-time residents of the area, believe that the economic development benefit to their communities outweigh the stated need for the closure and that history proves their case. The BLM cites the area as having sensitive archaeological and ecological value and represents all Americans (including indigenous peoples and their descendants) in an effort to preserve the aspects of that canyon and other areas in the state for that purpose.
A recent federal court ruling told the BLM that an updated “Resource Management Plan” was in order from its Richfield office and many conservation organizations, principally the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, heralded that decision as a victory for their efforts.
Wednesday’s council hearing is tangent to all of those concerns, but involves as much as $100,000 in state funds that will find its way to Lyman’s defense and appeal. Lyman and Wells were convicted by a nine-man, three woman jury of their peers earlier in April and will be sentenced on July 15 in Salt Lake City by Judge Robert Shelby.
Throughout Lyman’s legal troubles, he has chosen the road requiring significant and additional legal counsel, rejecting a plea deal offered by prosecutors and receiving an adverse ruling on indigent defense for public defenders’ resources as well. In the latter move, the court recognized that Lyman has sufficient personal assets that would disallow any public defender resources. Lyman has repeatedly made public comments prior to his sentencing, the most recent of which were with KUTV’s Daniel Woodruff.
Utah Political Capitol contacted the Governor’s Office about the administration’s position on the use of state funds for Lyman’s defense. The office stated that they were monitoring public comment but also waiting on a legal opinion from the state’s Attorney General’s office regarding the Lyman defense funding recommendation. Gordon Topham, (Republican – Sevier County). a CDC member, said he had “mixed feelings” about the use of public funds for Lyman but that he also wanted to hear from the Attorney General’s office as well.
This echoes the Governor’s comments made last week at his monthly news conference on KUED.
Expected to represent Governor Herbert during Wednesday’s meeting will be Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, who has a seat on the council.
A larger room for the hearing is being coordinated and the council meeting could take on some spirited discussion and lively debate, beginning at 9 am. Audio livestreaming is also being confirmed, likely available at the www.le.utah.gov audio link.
The list of the Constitutional Defense Council members may be found here.