The Utah Court of Appeals has intervened in the trial of a conservation activist and her husband accused of trying to kill cattle in San Juan County.
Rose Chilcoat and Mark Franklin were to face a jury trial starting Wednesday on charges that they trespassed on state trust lands and closed a corral gate with the intent of blocking livestock’s access to water.
Seventh District Judge Lyle Anderson has twice rejected defense requests for stays while the Durango, Colo., couple’s lawyers challenged key pretrial rulings to the appellate court. On Friday, a three-judge panel granted the stay.
A former National Park Service ranger, Chilcoat once served as associate director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a Colorado-based group that angered San Juan County ranchers and motorized recreation enthusiasts with its pro-wilderness advocacy. Many blame Chilcoat for the closure of Recapture Canyon to motorized use and the prosecution of County Commissioner Phil Lyman for leading a protest ATV ride there in 2014
Chilcoat and her husband have steadfastly rejected the felony charges, arguing the county is using her and her husband as “pawns in an ugly game.”
“It is Rose’s association with a conservation organization that is driving this malicious prosecution and we believe this to be a serious violation of our constitutional rights to free speech and association,” the couple wrote on a crowdfunding website.
The defense team, which includes former federal Judge Paul Cassell and two other University of Utah professors, has filed two interlocutory appeals. One challenges Anderson’s ruling to bind over the couple for trial and the other challenges the judge’s refusal to disqualify San Juan County Attorney Kendall Laws.
With the stay, it will now be unlikely Anderson will preside over the trial since he will retire by the end of June. He has repeatedly rejected defense motions, including one to admit evidence of Franklin’s polygraph results, which support his claim that he had no desire to harm cattle when he closed the gate while visiting Bears Ears National Monument in April 2017.
However, Anderson has granted some relief to the defense, last week changing the trial venue from Monticello to Price, where fewer residents have strong feelings about Great Old Broads. A defense-commissioned poll found widespread dislike of Chilcoat’s group in San Juan County, along with a general disdain for federal land managers and environmentalists.