Rep. Phil Lyman could face arrest as he continues to defy U.S. attorneys

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune via AP, file photo) In this Dec. 4, 2017, file photo, Bruce Adams, left, chairman of the San Juan County Commission stands with then-San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman — now a state representative — as they pose for photographs during a visit of President Donald Trump, at the Utah Capitol. Lyman has a scheduled federal court hearing coming up where the judge warned that U.S. marshals will be on hand ready to take him into custody if necessary.

As Utah Rep. Phil Lyman continues his tirade against the U.S. court system and ignores an order to hand over tax returns, a federal judge has ordered him to appear in court where U.S. marshals will be waiting to arrest him if necessary.

U.S. Attorney John Huber and Assistant Attorney Allison J.P. Moon are seeking his tax documents to determine whether Lyman’s restitution payments should be higher. The lawmaker led a 2014 protest of about 50 ATV riders down Recapture Canyon near Blanding, which the Bureau of Land Management closed to motorized traffic. A federal court convicted Lyman of a misdemeanor in 2015 and ordered him to pay $95,955.61 in damages. He also spent 10 days in jail.

Lyman, a certified public accountant, is currently making $100 payments each month. In October 2019, the court ordered him to turn over tax returns from 2017 to 2019 by May 1, 2020, to determine his financial situation. That deadline came and went, as well as an extension, without the documents being turned over. Lyman also stopped responding to emails from Moon.

Late last month, the U.S. attorneys asked a federal judge to compel Lyman to appear in court and explain why he shouldn’t be held in contempt.

Lyman filed a nine-page response Wednesday, mostly complaining about past mistreatment by the court and alleging backroom ties between judges and environmentalists. He called his past charges a “farce,” adding that he nevertheless “consistently paid my ordered restitution” even though he sees it as “nothing more than payment of extortion.”

“You may choose to see (and I am certain that you will represent) my arguments as merely a rant,” Lyman wrote. “That is to be expected in this cancel culture. But I am not in contempt of our great country. I love the United States. I love the Constitution. And I, like you and every officer of the Court, has sworn an oath to uphold it. I am not in contempt of the Law.”

In an email to The Salt Lake Tribune, Lyman said he has submitted tax returns to Utah District Judge David Nuffer, but not the federal attorneys.

“Prior to filing my reply, I provided my tax returns to Judge Nuffer with instructions that they were not to be provided to the U.S. attorney’s office because I have concerns that certain staff in that office are using their position for political and ideological purposes,” Lyman said.

His court response also laid into Huber, claiming that the attorney didn’t actually want to see whether Lyman’s financial circumstances enabled him to pay more. Instead, Lyman claimed, “it is his desire to castigate me.”

At Lyman’s current rate of restitution payments, only a quarter of the $96,000 owed will be paid by 2036 when the judgment expires.

In addition to Lyman’s stipend from his service at the Utah House, he owns an accounting firm, an investment group and a financial advisory group according to a state disclosure form. He receives compensation from wages, rental income, business services client income and S-corp distributions.

As for the emails Moon sent informing Lyman that he had missed the May 1 deadline as well as an unprompted extension she gave him due to the pandemic, Lyman wrote that “I searched my email and did find a nondescript email in my junk folder. It was unread and remains unread.”

Lyman had corresponded with Moon regularly by email from at least 2017 to 2018 to discuss his repayment, court documents show. In that correspondence, Lyman was much more cordial, writing that he would “would very much like” to pay off his restitution.

But in Wednesday’s response, Lyman called Moon an “environmental idealist," without citing evidence, adding that “she wastes taxpayer resources pursuing her personal ambition of protecting the planet from climate change, racial injustice, chauvinism, President Trump, conservatives, and the like.”

Moon works in the U.S. Attorney’s Financial Litigation Unit. In a prior review of Moon’s past cases, The Salt Lake Tribune found that the assistant attorney does not appear to specialize in public lands law and only became a prosecutor in Lyman’s Recapture Canyon case to collect restitution.

Huber was appointed as U.S. attorney for Utah by President Barack Obama in 2015. He was renominated by President Donald Trump in 2017 and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

In an order filed Thursday, Nuffer wrote that Lyman’s “response is not responsive to the issues raised” by the U.S. attorneys and that Lyman has failed "to adequately respond and expressed [his] intention not to comply” with the order to provide tax returns.

As such, the judge ordered a prescheduled virtual court hearing held via Zoom to continue on Friday. Nuffer also ordered an additional in-person hearing for Oct. 2 where officers would be present, cuffs in hand.

“That courthouse is open for critical hearings, and at that courthouse U.S. Marshals are present to take Mr. Lyman into custody in the event Mr. Lyman is found in contempt and incarceration is determined to be appropriate,” Nuffer wrote.

In an email to The Tribune, Lyman took issue with the incarceration threats.

“Incarceration for what? The order to appear in person, more than 300 miles from my home ... seems draconian,” Lyman said. “And to make that order prior to the previously scheduled hearing for tomorrow is less than judicious.”

Editor’s note: 5:47 p.m., Sept. 17: This story has been updated to include emailed comments from Lyman.