Judge steps down in Recapture Canyon case

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San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman leaves federal court on Dec. 23, 2014.

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has stepped down from the case involving a San Juan County Commissioner convicted of his involvement in a protest ride in Recapture Canyon.

In an order issued Friday night, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby recused himself from the case of Phil Lyman and his co-defendant, Monte Wells. Both men were convicted by a federal jury for last year’s protest ride in southeastern Utah’s Recapture Canyon, where they were protesting BLM road closures.

Defense lawyers brought up Judge Shelby’s friendship with a lawyer for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in their request that he step aside. In his ruling, Judge Shelby denied the environmental group had any influence on the case.

“But until Mr. Lyman filed his disqualification Motion, the court was unaware of any involvement in this proceeding by SUWA —which is not a party to this case. And Mr. Lyman identifies no factual basis upon which ‘a well-informed, thoughtful, and objective observer’ with ‘knowledge of all the circumstances’ could reach that conclusion,” Shelby wrote.

“Nevertheless, SUWA and other groups submitted to the court following Mr. Lyman’s conviction a letter seeking to influence the court’s sentencing decision in this case. This post-trial activity, together with the record now developed in the briefing on Mr. Lyman’s Motion, lead the court independently to conclude that recusal will promote confidence in these proceedings and avoid even the appearance of impropriety in connection with the court’s sentencing duties.”

A new judge will be picked Monday. Lyman is scheduled to be sentenced in September.