DENVER (AP) — An environmental activist who disrupted an oil and gas auction for land near Utah's national parks did so in protest, bringing attention to parcels that shouldn't have been for sale, his lawyers argued Thursday.
Tim DeChristopher's conviction in the case should be overturned because his move was a form of civil disobedience intended to protect the environment from an auction he believed to be illegal, Ron Yengich said in federal appeals court.
Yengich said that many of the 113 parcels up for sale were suspended from future bidding by the federal government because of attention drawn by DeChristopher's actions.
But federal prosecutor Dave Backman countered, saying DeChristopher signed a form explaining the rules before the December 2008 auction. Backman told a three-panel judge there are many ways to protest government actions, "but breaking the law is not one of them."
DeChristopher is asking the court to overturn his conviction. He is now serving two years in a federal prison in California after a conviction last summer in Salt Lake City.
The courtroom at the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals included DeChristopher's three lawyers and his mother, father and sister. DeChristopher was not at the hearing.
Backman said that no matter DeChristopher's intentions, the activist broke the law when he made bids for parcel lands he knew he wasn't going to pay for. DeChristopher ended up winning 14 drilling parcels for nearly $1.8 million.
DeChristopher contended during trial that the Bush administration rushed the auction without properly reviewing the parcels. Many of the parcels up for auction were later suspended soon after by President Barack Obama's Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in 2009.