Mike Terry, Deseret News archives
Members of the press swarm Tim DeChristopher as he arrives at the Federal Courthouse in Salt Lake City for his sentencing on Tuesday, July 26, 2011.

DENVER  — The U.S. Attorney for Utah said Thursday environmental activist Timothy DeChristopher lacks any legal grounds to contest his conviction on monkey-wrenching an oil and gas lease-auction because the sentencing judge acted within his discretion.

In a response filed with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals  to DeChristopher’s appeal of a conviction in Utah on two third-degree felonies, U.S. attorneys said he failed to prove federal Judge Dee Benson improperly tossed out the “necessity” defense — or that DeChristopher acted because he had no choice.

DeChristopher was convicted last year and was sentenced to two years in federal prison for deliberately posing as a bidder at a 2008 federal land auction for oil and gas leases out of protest for lands offered up too close to national parks and scenic wilderness.

The young economics major at the University of Utah bid nearly $1.8 million on more than a dozen parcels — which he won — and then later candidly admitted he had no attention of following through with the transaction.

Before trial, he attempted to introduce the “necessity” defense, which in legal terms means he chose to break the law, a lesser of two evils, to right a wrong. Such defense strategy has been upheld when prisoners break free to escape a burning jail cell. DeChristopher said he acted to prevent environmental consequences of the nation’s dependency on oil, such as global warming,

Benson, in prohibiting the defense, said the legal issues had to be confined to the allegations of what took place in the auction and said his courtroom would not be turned into a stage for an environmental debate.

Government attorneys seized on that sentiment in their filing.

“The district court wisely kept the trial focused on the crimes charged instead of allowing several lengthy mini-trials concerning entirely collateral issues,”  the brief said.

Amy Joi O'Donoghue

Twitter: amyjoi16