State representative, former San Juan County commissioner sues US for $10M over trespassing conviction

Composite image of photos from ATV protest ride through Recapture Canyon. near Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photos by Dallas Hyland, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A former San Juan County commissioner currently serving as a Utah House representative has sued a federal land agency after he spent 10 days in jail for trespassing during an illegal all-terrain vehicle protest ride in a closed Southern Utah canyon five years ago.

This file photo shows then-San Juan Commissioner Phil Lyman addressing a protest rally against the Bureau of Land Management at Centennial Park, Blanding, Utah, May 10, 2014 | Photo by Greta Hyland, St. George News

Acting as his own attorney, Rep. Phil Lyman filed the lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management on Friday in U.S. District Court. He is seeking $10 million in damages he claims were suffered to his reputation, business and political relationships.

“The BLM’s collusion with media, the U.S. attorney’s office, special interest groups was malicious, knowingly inaccurate, and calculated as an effective form of character assassination against Mr. Lyman,” the lawsuit said.

Lyman’s 2014 ride was a protest challenging federal management of western public lands, he said.

A jury found Lyman guilty in 2015 of misdemeanor illegal use of ATVs and conspiracy for organizing the ride through a canyon closed to vehicles due to the presence of Native American cliff dwellings. He was sentenced to 10 days in jail and ordered to pay $96,000 restitution.

He served his time in 2016 and has since been paying off the fine in installments of $100 a month. In October, U.S. District Judge David Nuffer blocked the federal government’s attempt to force Lyman to increase his monthly payment from $100 to $500.

The first-term Republican Utah House member in his lawsuit accused multiple federal officials of lying under oath about the status of a disputed route through Recapture Canyon.

The lawsuit argues the agency “failed to follow its own administrative procedures in closing the area” to off-road travel in 2007 and alleges violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, Lyman said in the complaint.

It contends federal officials did not consult with local and state officials before the closure, as would have been required if the county had a federally recognized right-of-way in the canyon.

The federal agency does not comment on pending litigation, said Kimberly Finch, an agency spokeswoman in Utah.

Lyman submitted a federal claim in 2018 to the land agency that sought $2.5 million in damages, but it was rejected earlier this year, officials said.

The Department of the Interior told him if he objected he could seek reconsideration in six months or file a federal lawsuit. That deadline is less than two weeks away.

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