SALT LAKE CITY — A federal appeals court on Monday upheld the convictions of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and another man for leading an illegal ATV protest ride in a southern Utah canyon closed to off-road vehicles.
Lyman and Monte Wells challenged their 2015 convictions for a variety of reasons, including questioning a judge's impartiality, discovery of a map showing a public right-of-way in the canyon and ineffective counsel at trial.
A three-judge panel of 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver found none of their arguments were grounds for a reversal in a 57-page ruling.
Lyman continues to maintain his innocence.
"I didn't trespass. I didn't break any laws. I worked it all out with BLM in advance," he said Monday.
Lyman, who represents himself in the appeal, said he intends to seek an "en banc" review of the case, meaning all 18 judges on the 10th Circuit would be asked to weigh in.
"The justice system deserves a right to do the right thing, and if I dropped it right now, it would be quitting before I give them every opportunity. This decision is not an indictment of me. It's an indictment of the justice system in general," he said, calling the case against him a "travesty."
Wells said he's disappointed in the ruling in the case that he calls emblematic of frustrations over federal management of public land. The canyon's closure has long been a source of tension, and the case showcased the deep-rooted strain between the government and residents over land use.
"To me, Recapture (Canyon) is the key because it stands for everything that they're doing," he told the Associated Press, adding that the road had long seen hard use and the decision to close it to motor vehicles was arbitrary.
Lyman spent 10 days in jail and Wells five after a jury found them guilty of misdemeanor conspiracy and trespassing charges for organizing the 2014 protest ride in Recapture Canyon near Blanding. The two men are also serving 36 months of probation and paying $96,000 in restitution.
Lyman argued that the protest he led didn't break any laws; that he was improperly disallowed from admitting evidence showing he was within the law; and that the judge who heard his case had a conflict of interest with an activist group that opposed the protest.
The appeals court noted that U.S. District Judge Robert Shelby presided over the trial but recused himself before sentencing.
Lyman and Wells also contended that prosecutors failed to disclose a 1979 map showing the road in Recapture Canyon is a public right of way known as an RS2477 road.
Prosecutors argued that the Bureau of Land Management properly closed the road and the court has ruled that only state and local governments, not individuals, may raise RS2477 right of way claims.
The appeals court concluded that the map could not have been material for Lyman's and Well's good-faith defense.
"As the district court pointed out, the map cannot even be relevant on this point because (Lyman and Wells) were unaware of the map at the time of the ATV ride," according to the court.