A judge decides Utah Rep. Phil Lyman doesn’t have to pay his fine for illegal Recapture Canyon ride any faster

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, during floor time on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019.

A Utah legislator can keep paying $100 each month to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for damage done when he led a ride on closed public land, a federal judge ruled Monday, denying a government effort to increase the payment fivefold.

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer denied Monday a motion by federal prosecutors against Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, over how quickly he should pay off $95,955.61 in damages. Lyman, a former San Juan County commissioner who has long railed against federal management of public lands, was convicted in 2015 of a misdemeanor for leading a protest ride into Recapture Canyon, a BLM-managed area near Blanding that was closed to protect ancient American Indian dwellings.

The court allowed Lyman and his co-defendant, Monte Jerome Wells, to pay $100 each month, citing Wells’ ability to pay. At that rate, federal officials said, just over a quarter of the debt would be paid by April 2036, when his debt judgment expires.

Prosecutors argued in March that Lyman, who was elected to the Utah House in 2018, had a “heightened moral obligation” to use his newly acquired state salary to pay the judgment faster. Those prosecutors wanted him to pay $500 a month.

Lyman, in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune written in March, called the motion “nothing but thinly veiled defamation by a U.S. attorney with a political ax to grind.”

While prosecutors argued that Lyman’s salary as a legislator, $1,023.75 per month, meant his income had increased, Lyman argued that resigning from the San Juan County Commission meant a decrease in Lyman’s income of $25,000 per year.

Nuffer agreed. “Here, it is undisputed that Mr. Lyman’s economic circumstances have worsened,” Nuffer wrote in his opinion.

The ruling wasn’t all good news for Lyman, though. Lyman, Nuffer said in his opinion, failed to notify the court and the U.S. Attorney’s office about his change in income — and only found out when the government sought the larger monthly payment. Nuffer ordered Lyman to provide his tax returns for 2017 through 2019, for the court to review, with a deadline of May 1, 2020.