by Bill Boyle
I need to respond to San Juan County Commission Chairman Phil Lyman’s letter to the Editor (see letter here) regarding the San Juan Record coverage of legal issues related to the Recapture Canyon protest.
At an April 1 hearing, Federal Judge Robert Shelby rejected a motion, filed by three of the defendants, including Lyman, to dismiss conspiracy charges.
Shelby’s ruling on the motion was the major focus of the article. Our coverage outlined the rationale behind the motions, the response of the U.S. Attorneys, and Judge Shelby’s ruling.
It was not a good day in court for the defendants and we correctly reported it. We stand by our coverage as fair, balanced and accurate.
I have had no communication with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) about the Recapture Canyon case. They respectfully decline to discuss ongoing legal matters.
Our coverage of the case has come from motions filed in court and from actions in the court.
• • • • •
At the hearing, Judge Shelby decided to reschedule, again, a “James hearing”. The James hearing has been scheduled, delayed, canceled and rescheduled several times over the past several months.
From my perspective, a judge ruling on a motion is certainly more newsworthy than a judge simply rescheduling a hearing.
We did not report that the hearing was rescheduled, but we will certainly report on it when, or if, the hearing is ever held.
The James hearing may be of critical importance to the defense. In a federal conspiracy case, communications between the accused co-conspirators can be used in trial.
A James hearing can clarify what statements can be used as evidence in the trial.
The remainder of the April 8 article was background information so readers could better understand the legal issues that were being discussed. (read the full text here).
The article was about the court case and the legal actions, not about the BLM.
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In his letter to the Editor, Lyman expressed frustration that the event was characterized as a protest of the closure of Recapture Canyon to motorized traffic by the BLM.
The vast majority of those at the event believe that the protest was clearly the result of the ongoing closure of the canyon. They must not have been paying attention.
While there is a long list of grievance that many local residents have with the BLM, it is fair to say that the closure of the canyon, and the subsequent events over the past eight years, was the trigger for the protest.
The week after the event, Lyman wrote in the Deseret News that the protest was “an expression of objection and dissent related to the actions of the BLM.” (See letter here)
Maybe I’ll use that in the future.
It certainly fits better in an article than “the protest was and is about the clandestine relationship that the federal agencies, including our own local BLM, have with non-governmental organizations whose objectives are contrary to the health, happiness, safety, peace, and prosperity of our communities.”
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At the May 10, 2014 event, more than 100 protesters rode ATVs nearly one mile into the closed portion of the canyon, including Commissioner Lyman. This includes many people who, after repeated assurances by Lyman that he would “not cross the line” that day, did not know they had followed him across the line and into the closed areas.
As they approached the end of the clearly delineated pipeline maintenance road, the bulk of the group stopped, including Commissioner Lyman.
After stopping for about 30 minutes, more than 50 motorized vehicles then traveled ahead through the canyon on a clearly more primitive trail. This is what the BLM calls the new trail that was carved through a portion of the canyon.
The first photograph above was taken on that portion of the trail on the day of the protest. Below, and in contrast is another photograph of protesters traveling on the pipeline maintenance road.
• • • • •
On April 1, we reported that the BLM had responded to the Blanding City Council resolution condemning the BLM. (Read the full text here)
The letter, signed by Utah BLM Director Juan Palma, is of intense interest because it is one of the few, if not the only, official statement of the BLM position on the matter.
The contents of the letter were discussed in the article and readers were told that they could download the entire letter at the San Juan Record website. We also included a copy of the Blanding City Resolution on the website once again, to provide the council viewpoint.
According to our reporter, a letter written by Commissioner Lyman was not discussed at the March 24 meeting of the Blanding City Council. The letter was placed on Lyman’s County Facebook page on April 9, 16 days after the City Council meeting.
Our reporter said that while Councilman Joe Lyman mentioned that he had developed a rough draft response to the BLM letter, Lyman added that it was so close to the trial that they should probably wait and see what happens. Wise words.
• • • • •
It is an ongoing challenge to cover complicated and emotional issues such as the Recapture Canyon protest. We have published a large number of articles on the story and have tried to maintain objectivity in our news coverage throughout the process.
In addition to our news coverage, we published a series of well-written articles on the issue by Joe Lyman and a number of letters to the Editor. Additional information, in its raw form, has been made available at the San Juan Record website.
A long list of articles in the San Juan Record outline local frustration with the broken promises of the BLM. Including these and these.
The articles in the newspaper were sent to our 6,000 weekly readers and copies on our website have been read by thousands of additional readers.
Through these means and more, the San Juan Record has provided a broad range of information and opinion on the issue. From my perspective, all sides have had an opportunity to contribute and all sides have been represented.
If you think that the coverage of Recapture has been “painfully one-sided”, you have not been paying attention or your views are painfully one-sided.
• • • • •
I continue to be concerned about Lyman using his official capacity as San Juan County Commissioner to advance his personal agenda and try to influence media coverage.
The letter, from his county email account, is signed “Phil Lyman, Commission Chairman, San Juan County, UT” and he refers to his letter “on my County Facebook page”.
As far as I understand, the county is not involved, at any level, with defending the current charges against Lyman. Lyman made a number of statements before the protest that he was acting as an individual and not as a Commissioner.
As the trial moves ahead, we will continue to cover the issues in San Juan County. Lyman’s attempt to use his position to bully the media will fail.