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San Juan County commissioner’s conviction upheld over Recapture Canyon protest ride

Posted at 12:28 PM, Oct 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-23 15:58:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal appeals court has upheld the convictions of a San Juan County Commissioner and a blogger in connection with a protest ride over road closures in Utah's Four Corners area.

San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman arrives at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

In a ruling handed down Monday, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of commissioner Phil Lyman and Monte Wells.

"Because none of Defendants-Appellants’ arguments are grounds for reversal of the district court’s judgment... we affirm," the judges wrote.

Lyman and Wells brought up a number of complaints in appealing their convictions for the 2014 protest ride in Recapture Canyon. Among them, a challenge to the impartiality of the federal judge who oversaw their trial, issues about rights of way and restitution, and ultimately contending that they did not trespass in an area the Bureau of Land Management insisted was off limits to ATVs. Wells also tried to argue that as a blogger, he was a "citizen journalist" entitled to First Amendment protections.

ATV riders in Recapture Canyon as part of a protest over use of public lands in May 2014. (FOX 13 file image)

The three judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court rejected those claims. However, Judge Harris Hartz dissented on one point.

"I join the opinion except for the discussion ... suggesting the possibility that a defendant charged with what amounts to criminal trespass cannot challenge the legality of a BLM closure order," he wrote.

Lyman spent 10 days in jail and Wells served five as a result of their convictions.

In a text message to FOX 13, Commissioner Lyman said he was not surprised but would ask for an "en banc" hearing, meaning he would like the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court to hear the case again.

"The federal system is as broken as it can be," he wrote.

Wells told FOX 13 that he disagreed with the 10th Circuit, but planned no appeal. He said they were blocked from bringing up claims the BLM never had title to the road.

"We weren’t allowed due process and they don’t care," Wells said. "Not within the justice system."

Read the ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals here: