Law west of the Pecos
December 16, 2015
Philosophically, I don’t see where the judiciary of the West has changed all that much since Judge Roy Bean spent his free time slugging down Red Eye and fantasizing about Lillie Langtry.
In drawing the comparison with ol’ Roy, I certainly don’t mean to insinuate that today’s adjudicators directly pocket the collected fines, as was the case back when Bean oversaw justice from his "Jersey Lilly" courtroom/saloon. I’m fairly certain the route is far more circuitous these days.
It’s just that when it comes to climate justice and environmental concerns, the scales often seem "tipped" in favor of those deep-pocketed individuals Ed Abbey once referred to as "diggers, drillers, borers, grubbers, asphalt spreaders, dam builders, overgrazers, clear cutters, and strip miners."
To check the validity of my theory, I’ll be keeping close tabs on the sentencing of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman and Monticello City Councilman Monte Wells this Friday following their misdemeanor trespassing convictions for ramrodding the May 2014 Recapture Canyon ATV protest ride in Southeast Utah.
I mean if Tim DeChristopher served two years for disrupting a bogus oil and gas lease auction, the willful and unlawful desecration of archeologically-rich ancestral lands should be met with at least sufficient jail time and fines to not only fit the crime, but also serve as a deterrent.
Of course, we have yet to mention the elephant in the room, the biggest problem confronting Western justice. That would be the Cliven Bundy "standoff" outside Mesquite, Nevada against Bureau of Land Management law enforcement during the spring of 2014.
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It would seem, however, that the looming resolution, if any, of said conflict could involve an even larger pachyderm applying for residency. This is crazy stuff. I imagine young zealots have been volunteering to join Bundy’s gun-toting comrades at a rate commensurate to that of ISIS. Maybe not, but the thought occurred to me.
Both outfits certainly believe they have God on their side. And you must admit, God and guns make for one powerful lobby. I’m not sure Bundy’s crowd buys into the martyr myth but there seems to be little doubt that they possess sufficient technology to lay down an incredible amount of firepower.
Admittedly, I feel somewhat disingenuous in blaming the administration for not pressing the issue and taking the Bundy clan into custody for blatant sedition. At the time it happened, however, I was in total agreement with the decision. "Anything but a bloodbath" was my reasoning.
But the sidebars and ramifications just might come back to haunt us all. There are not only sunsets on the sage but prisms of brazenness that are continually fueled by extreme rhetoric and a democracy eroded by big-money. Might is right! There are no atheists in foxholes! Keep your powder dry! Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!
Now, the last I heard on the Bundy front was that Al, Ted, and McGeorge had declined to take an official position on Cliven’s dilemma with the BLM. In the direct aftermath of the incident in question, however, there seemed to be a lot of banter from the Feds to the effect that there is an ongoing investigation and they are working diligently to ensure that those who broke the law are held accountable.
Will history look back at this as a time when the "Sagebrush Rebellion" exploded or imploded? Will bands of militias roam the west taking back what is "theirs?" The public lands debate certainly separates those on each side of the issue. Myself, I could never trust western state governments to be proper stewards of public lands.
That being said, of course, plops me down on the side of creating additional public lands like the projected Bear’s Ears National Monument. Come to think of it, further protections for the Greater Canyonlands area wouldn’t be a bad idea, either. I know — give him an inch and he wants a mile.
Showdowns are looming. No doubt about it. And in one way or another, most all of them relate to climate justice, including land use. Water wars are already afoot in Western courtrooms. And with fossil fuels losing favor, push will soon come to shove.
It will be interesting to follow the Recapture Canyon sentencing. Maybe if someone could slip U.S. District Judge David Nuffer a copy of Roy Bean’s judicial bible — the 1879 edition of the Revised Statutes of Texas — he could make shorter work of the proceedings. We are west of the Pecos, you know.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.