Bogus bidder argues he had to act

BLM auction » Defense wants to put ex-Interior boss and NASA scientist on the stand.
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Tim DeChristopher is making a last-ditch attempt to testify that he disrupted an oil and gas lease sale because he saw no other way to stop a corrupt federal auction that would do lasting harm to the environment.

In court papers filed Monday, attorneys Ron Yengich, Elizabeth Hunt and Pat Shea detailed how and why DeChristopher would defend himself from felony charges stemming from his bogus bidding at the Bureau of Land Management's Dec. 19 auction.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson, who a month ago said he was disinclined to allow what is called a "necessity" or "choice of evils" defense, asked the attorneys for the explanation before he rules on a prosecution motion to block the defense.

The judge said he was "reluctant to open my courtroom to a lengthy hearing on global warming" -- but that's exactly what DeChristopher wants.

Court papers say the 28-year-old former University of Utah economics student plans to call expert witnesses, including ex-Interior Secretary and Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus and NASA climate scientist James Hansen who has been warning about greenhouse-gas emissions and climate disruption since the 1980s.

Hansen's testimony that carbon-dioxide emissions from a British coal-fired power plant could be responsible for the extinction of up to 400 species was instrumental in a successful "lesser evil" defense of six Greenpeace activists who shut down the Kingsnorth plant in 2007.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Huber has argued that a jury might buy DeChristopher's lesser-evil argument in what prosecutors see as a simple criminal case, and that the defendant cannot satisfy the legal requirements of such a defense, particularly that harm was imminent. Huber declined further comment Monday.

In his defense, DeChristopher also plans to draw on U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina's Jan. 17 temporary restraining order on the auction. That ruling, in a lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and several other conservation and historic-preservation organizations, said the BLM acted illegally when it failed to properly evaluate damage to air quality, the unique character of southern and eastern Utah geography and potential harm to cultural resources when preparing documents for the auction.

DeChristopher faces up to 10 years in prison and $750,000 in fines under felony charges he organized and participated in a scheme to "defeat" federal law and made a fraudulent statement when he registered as a bidder.

Background: DeChristopher

Tim DeChristopher won 14 parcels at the Dec. 19 auction, including areas near Canyonlands and Arches national parks and Dinosaur National Monument. He told agents he had no intention of paying the $1.8 million that he had bid. He also said his act of civil disobedience was what he could do at that moment to curb global climate disruption.