During a meeting at the Capitol that included staunch opponents to federal land policies in Utah, Rep. Mike Noel floated an idea to help his ally out of legal trouble.
Noel questioned the judges in the case against San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, who led a protest ATV ride through Recapture Canyon near Monticello and failed to have his conviction overturned by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Noel, chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, bashed the judges that ruled against his friend and unveiled the latest legal action plan for Lyman on Thursday: appeal for help from President Donald Trump.
The idea was captured by Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel for the Alliance for a Better Utah, who attended and recorded a meeting of the Foundation for Integrated Resource Management, or FIRM, and provided the audio to The Salt Lake Tribune upon request. FIRM formed in 2016 in part to fight the Bears Ears monument designation.
Noel gave the group his version of Lyman’s court case and then mentioned all hope of clearing his friend’s record of misdemeanor conspiracy and illegal use of ATVs wasn’t lost. He confirmed on Friday that he pitched asking Trump to pardon Lyman.
“I will at some point,” Noel said.
Lyman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“Giving him a pardon now, after he’s been convicted and spent time in jail, would only serve to signal that this trio - President Trump, Rep. Noel and Phil Lyman - show little respect for the rule of law and the justice system,” Thomas said Friday.
Trump has repeatedly called into question judges and the justice system in general. He has also shown a willingness to intervene on behalf of his allies, including former Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whom Trump last August pardoned of his criminal contempt conviction related to the ex-lawman’s hard-line tactics against undocumented immigrants.
During the meeting, Noel called U.S. District Court Judge Robert Shelby a “total, dyed-in-the-wool greeny left-winger,” according to the recording.
Noel said Shelby should have recused himself from the case because he was friends with the legal director of the conservation group Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).
Shelby recused himself after Lyman was found guilty and before sentencing.
The friendship was argued as grounds for overturning the convictions of Lyman and San Juan County activist and blogger Monte Wells in their unsuccessful appeal to the 10th Circuit. The three-member panel said Shelby “did not err in failing to recuse.”
Noel suggested the appeal fell flat because one of the judges was appointed by President Bill Clinton and another by President Barack Obama. He said it “maybe” helped that President George W. Bush appointed one of the three members on the panel, which he called a “crapshoot.”
Actually, Bush appointed two of the three judges that upheld the conviction – Judge Jerome A. Holmes and Judge Harris L. Hartz. Clinton appointed Judge Michael R. Murphy.
Trump, Noel and Lyman also share the same views on federal land policies. The president came to Utah in December and shrunk the vast boundaries of Bears Ears and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a move that’s being challenged in court.
Lyman went to the Capitol to watch Trump sign the executive order shrinking the monuments. He wore a red Trump campaign hat that read “Make America Great Again.” His colleague, San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams, wore a cowboy hat that read “Make San Juan County Great Again.