|Oil leases » Monkey-wrencher asks federal court to allow his climate-change defense.|
By Christopher Smart
In the court of public opinion, Tim DeChristopher always has argued that he monkey-wrenched an oil and gas lease auction to combat the global climate crisis.
Now he wants to make that argument in federal court.
Attorneys for the University of Utah economics major have filed papers in U.S. District Court contending a federal judge should reject a government motion and allow their client to use his battle against global warming as a defense against two felony charges.
"The government is not entitled by way of motion to invade DeChristopher's attorney-client privileges," wrote the defense counsel, "or to violate his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendment rights to prepare his defense to serious criminal charges."
In a separate motion, DeChristopher's legal team is seeking information from federal prosecutors about whether other individuals or corporations ever had failed to pay for oil and gas lease bids and whether any of them were prosecuted.
Defense lawyer Pat Shea, who oversaw the Bureau of Land Management during the Clinton administration, said Tuesday the Constitution guarantees his client a "full and complete defense, rather than a trimmed defense when the trimming is done by the government."
DeChristopher pleaded not guilty in April to a two-count federal indictment stemming from a Dec. 19, 2008, BLM oil and gas lease auction in which he offered a total of $1.8 million -- admittedly with no intention of paying the money -- to win bids on 14 parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
In May, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman filed a 27-page motion in federal court, arguing that a civil-disobedience defense --- such as fighting the climate crisis -- would inflame a jury and serve only to urge those empaneled not to follow the law.
"Accordingly, at trial," the prosecutor's motion states, "defense counsel should focus the jury's attention on facts and not try to confuse it with appeals based on emotion, sympathy or other similar conclusions."
Some legal experts have said the government is trying to wipe out the civil-disobedience defense because it fears some jurors would side with DeChristopher -- despite his acknowledgement that he placed bogus bids on the parcels.
At the same time, without that defense, experts have said the U. student may not stand a chance against the charges.
Shea said federal prosecutors have the burden to prove DeChristopher's guilt.
"They want a straight rendition of the facts that transpired on Dec. 19, 2008," Shea said. "We want a contextual examination of those events within the parameters of global warming."
The U.S. Attorney's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
A hearing on the motion is set for Sept. 25 before U.S. District Judge Dee Benson in Salt Lake City. A trial date is not yet scheduled.
Tribune reporter Patty Henetz contributed to this story.
How the case got here
Tim DeChristopher disrupted a U.S. Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease auction Dec. 19 in Salt Lake City. After he bid $1.8 million to win bids on 14 parcels near Arches and Canyonlands national parks and drove up bidding on several others, BLM agents removed him from the auction room for questioning.
The University of Utah economics major, who has become a folk hero to many since the lease sale, admitted to his false bidding, saying it was an act of civil disobedience in protest of Bush administration policies that worsened the global climate crisis and threatened the health of everyone on the planet.
On Feb. 4, President Barack Obama's Interior secretary, Ken Salazar, shelved 77 contested lease parcels, including the ones DeChristopher won, and scolded the Bush team for rushing reviews of the disputed sites.
On April 1, a federal jury handed up a two-count felony indictment against DeChristopher for violating the terms of the auction he promised to observe when he signed up to bid. He pleaded not guilty April 28. A hearing is set for Sept. 25. No trial date is scheduled.