Great Old Broads for Wilderness Asserts Right for Freedom of Speech
Durango, CO— Great Old Broads for Wilderness (Broads) and 13 other conservation organizations have signed on to an amicus brief filed Friday in support of Broads’ former associate director, Rose Chilcoat, who has been targeted for criminal prosecution because of her association with the conservation organization and her work to advocate for healthy public lands in San Juan County, Utah. The organizations have signed on to support the defense team’s petition to review Judge Lyle Anderson’s decision to bind Ms. Chilcoat and her husband Mark Franklin over for trial, asserting that criminal prosecution based on her views and organizational affiliation, and Franklin’s association with his wife, is a serious infringement to their First Amendment rights. If allowed to stand, this case would have a profound effect on free speech and association throughout San Juan County, and could set a dangerous precedent for Americans across the country who advocate for clean air, clean water, and healthy public lands.
The amicus brief states “The County went to great lengths to highlight both Great Old Broads for Wilderness’ advocacy for public land stewardship, and Ms. Chilcoat’s connection to that organization, in an effort to establish criminal intent.” The District Court accepted this rationale, denying the defense’s Motion to Quash the bindover for trial.
The charges filed against Chilcoat and Franklin are based on an incident that occurred on state trust lands within San Juan County. Franklin closed a gate to a corral and the county filed multiple felony charges against the couple, including “attempted wanton destruction of livestock,” despite the fact that responding law enforcement assessed that “no harm was done” and the rancher who reported the incident acknowledged that the cattle were not prevented from reaching water inside the corral, because a section of the fence was down.
“Great Old Broads for Wilderness is devoted to protecting and preserving America’s public lands and waters, “ said Shelley Silbert, executive director for Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Basing these malicious and overtly harsh charges on Rose’s activities as a conservationist is an outrageous infringement of her First Amendment rights. Additionally, for nearly 30 years, our organization has worked with with agencies that manage public lands livestock grazing allotments to be sure permittees adhere to agency guidelines and use practices that are not harmful to watershed and riparian areas, wildlife habitat, and the overall health of the lands. In San Juan County, government officials and residents have expressed hostility towards the organization in a number of disturbing ways—which seems out of step, since a majority of Americans are proponents of clean air, water, and healthy wild lands.”
“Western Watersheds Project has been successful in beating back state laws in Idaho and Wyoming that suppress the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of expression,” said Erik Molvar, executive director with Western Watersheds Project. “We are hopeful that the Utah judicial system will similarly squelch San Juan County’s bizarre and unjustifiable attack on Americans visiting their public lands.”
“The First Amendment issues in this case are particularly troubling for us as a publisher, member of the conservation community, and part of the rich cultural life in Southern Utah,” said Kirsten Johanna Allen, publisher and editorial director for Torrey House Press.
“As has been often said, our government is one of laws, not of men,” said Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy council for Alliance for a Better Utah. “The justice system should operate free from the political whims or prejudices of any one person or community. We fervently hope this brief will remind the court of the importance of the constitutional rights implicated in this matter. Without regard to the rest of the case, simply belonging to an environmental group engaged in peaceful activity should not be the basis for which someone is brought to trial.”
“Targeting Rose for criminal prosecution is meant to threaten anyone who speaks up for public lands and the environment in San Juan County,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This county cabal has a history of flouting the law to plunder public lands, but now they want to put people in prison. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. We’ll do everything we can to support Rose and Great Old Broads.”
Organizations signed on to the amicus brief include Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Advocates for the West, Alliance for a Better Utah, Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Sierra Club, Torrey House Press, Western Watersheds Project, Wild Earth Guardians, Wild Utah Project, Wilderness Watch, Wildlands Defense, and Wildlands Network.