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Hatch says he didn't meddle in sentencing of bogus lease bidder Tim DeChristopher

Published September 20, 2011 9:08 am

Politics • Activist's attorneys note Utah senator's support for judge's confirmation.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sen. Orrin Hatch denies an allegation by environmental activist Tim DeChristopher's attorneys that the Utah Republican sought to influence their client's sentence on charges of disrupting a federal oil and gas lease auction.

Defense attorneys Pat Shea and Ron Yengich, in an opinion column published in Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune, said Hatch "called Judge [Dee] Benson after Tim's trial was over, but before he was sentenced, and suggested the length of time Tim should serve in federal prison."

On Monday, Shea declined to identify the sources he said supplied him "credible evidence," adding that he had learned Hatch recommended a four- to six-year prison term.

Benson, who noted at sentencing that numerous people had written him suggesting sentences, ultimately chose a two-year term.

The judge — a one-time Hatch chief of staff who rose to U.S. attorney and the federal bench with the senator's help — did not return a call seeking comment Monday.

Hatch, through spokeswoman Heather Barney, strongly denied recommending a sentence.

Hatch "said he doesn't talk to judges unless their cases are already decided," Barney said. "Pat Shea is making false allegations."

It's not illegal for a senator to contact a judge about potential criminal sentences, Shea said, but it does raise professional conduct and ethical questions for a judge such as Benson and a lawyer such as Hatch.

The Senate Ethics Committee also advises senators to refrain from intervening in legal cases not involving them.

DeChristopher's case, stemming from his bogus bids in protest of leasing Utah lands to energy companies at the end of the Bush administration, generated a second wave of protests at his winter trial and July sentencing. Climate activists said his civil disobedience was necessary to prevent damage from fossil-fuel burning, while government prosecutors argued only prison time would uphold the rule of law.

Shea lost to Hatch in the 1994 Senate race and went on to become President Bill Clinton's national Bureau of Land Management director.







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