At the beginning of the meeting, Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox indicated that the Constitutional Defense Council’s (CDC) agenda for the day would include a motion from Kane County, part of Representative Mike Noel’s (Republican – Kanab) district, to apply for CDC funds in the defense and potential appeal of convicted trespasser and conspirator, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman.
When Cox asked for a show of hands from the public who wanted to go on the record before the council, approximately 16 commissioners, sheriffs and others raised their hands. In the end, it would all be over before lunch, including a private sequester into “executive session” where the council received legal opinion from the state’s Attorney General’s office on using monies that Noel had requested last week via committee action.
At the time of the committee recommendation, as much as $100,000 of the people’s money had been requested from mineral lease revenues and recommended for release by the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, an action that was approved by the Legislative Management Committee hours later. Those actions prompted Wednesday’s meeting – which would end with a rejection and a pile of cash.
On hand during the council proceedings (but without a seat on the CDC) was Representative Ken Ivory (Republican – West Jordan) who created the American Lands Council and who now describes himself as an “educator” for that organization.
As often occurs, some communication is telegraphed by backchannel means to indicate additional legal perils over such a hotly contested proposal. By the time everything is put “on the record,” many decisions have already been discussed and made so that the agenda becomes correlation and final information distribution with some additional time for the public to weigh-in.
Steve Erickson, board member and Utah coordinator for the Great Basin Water Network, released a letter addressed to Cox and the members of the council which outlined a prior and pending request for funds in the matter of the Snake Valley water rights versus the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s Groundwater Development Project. Other opposition players, several with the ability to bring suit against the state, were at the hearing waiting to respond as well.
While the council members were in executive session, Lyman told Utah Political Capitol that he hasn’t decided to appeal his case, stating, “I need to have another discussion with the judge about that.” He also felt that the CDC would not proffer any funds for additional appeal.
Lyman would go on to say that he hoped the state would spend its money to litigate the RS2477 road-closure issue (a related matter with federal jurisdiction via the Bureau of Land Management and other national authorities).
When asked if he believed he was guilty of the conviction in the Recapture Canyon ride organization and trespass as the jury decided, Lyman said that the ride and subsequent charges came “on the heels of Bunkerville” – a reference to the Cliven Bundy Nevada ranch standoff where armed citizens leveled their guns at BLM agents – and that the media “provokes an angry response from the public.”
When a reporter asked Lyman about the difference between Tim DeChristopher’s conviction and his own, Lyman said that he doesn’t feel that the comparisons are fair to either one of them and that DeChristopher was, “a lot braver than I am. My hat’s off to him.”
Lyman described both cases as being “over-prosecuted,” another way of describing what many rural politicians feel is federal government “overreach.”
Lyman also rejected comparisons to the Cliven Bundy case, “This is so not like [that] case. Again, that’s not fair to either one of us,” said Lyman. “[Bundy is] talking about his livelihood, his family’s ranch that’s been theirs for generations. I’m talking about one mile of right-of-way trail in Recapture Canyon with no archeology on it. I don’t know how [federal prosecutors] could connect those two [cases] together. They’ve done everything they could to connect those two together, to my detriment in this situation.”
However, Lyman did say that he felt that he was being made an example of by the federal government after the Bunkerville, Nevada standoff, and that they’re doing it without merit. But Lyman had plenty of supporters on-hand at today’s proceedings to bolster his claim and put their money where their mouths were.
Upon the council’s resumption after executive session, the fate of the funds had been determined, as Cox (himself an attorney and former federal justice clerk) stated that there would be no further discussion involving public monies, thus killing that issue. Soon after it was announced that the Governor’s office had sent over a check for $10,000 of personal funds for a potential appeal.
Before the council would be adjourned, several commissioners made remarks and pledges from the “friendly witness” point of view and would go on to throw down over $3,000 in cash as a sign of support for Lyman as well.
More than one of these witnesses indicated that they were newly elected commissioners who were concerned about the “chilling effect” that the Lyman case has on their efforts on behalf of constituents.
Lyman and Monte Wells are scheduled to appear before Federal Judge Robert Shelby for sentencing on July 15.