This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated.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.
Bids that should not have been made at an auction that should not have been held resulted in an indictment that should not have been sought and, Thursday, a conviction that could not, at that point, have been avoided.
Now comes the opportunity for someone to finally do something right. And that would be for federal prosecutors to recommend, and U.S. District Judge Dee Benson to grant, only a token sentence for activist Tim DeChristopher.
By the strict letter of the law, which a federal jury apparently took very much to heart, DeChristopher was indeed guilty of falsely representing himself as a bona fide bidder at a 2008 auction for drilling leases on federal lands in Utah.
DeChristopher was frustrated by the fact that what passed at the time for lawful authorities i.e., the Bush administration's Bureau of Land Management were not properly protecting fragile lands or showing any concern about climate change. So he registered as a bidder at an auction that was clearly a last-minute push to get the leases sold before the more environmentally conscious Obama administration took over.
Maybe DeChristopher entered the building with the intent of monkey-wrenching the auction. Maybe, as he testified the other day, he only signed the bidder registration form so he could enter the room and his $1.8 million in worthless bids were an impulsive response to what he reasonably saw as immoral and possibly illegal acts of destruction. Either way, what he did was not legal.
But, as we argued in this space long ago, the indictment brought by then-U.S. Attorney Brett Tolman was a waste of government resources. The auction that DeChristopher brought down around him was later ruled to have been out of bounds because the BLM had not, just as the environmentalists had argued, done its homework. The parcels put out for lease that day were later withdrawn from the market.
The judge did not allow DeChristopher and his attorneys to use a necessity defense, the argument that his crime was a lesser evil than the one he was trying to prevent. And the argument that the government too often forgives other public lands violations say, county commissioners who remove BLM signs limiting ATV access to fragile lands was also disallowed.
But, now that the jury has done its duty and been discharged, Judge Benson is not compelled to ignore those facts. Rather, as a jurist in search of true justice, he should keep them very much in mind as he gives DeChristopher, a man of guts and principle, the lightest sentence allowed by law.