Letter from Utah

Last July, activist and University of Utah student Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in federal prison for the disruption of an illegitimate oil and gas auction. When asked by Terry Tempest Williams, in the January/February 2012 issue of Orion (“What Love Looks Like”), about his thoughts on his imprisonment, Tim responded, “All these people are worrying about how to keep me out of prison, but I feel like the goal should be to get other people in prison. How do we get more people to join me?” We asked Tim’s lawyer, Patrick Shea, for an update on the case.

Tim has moved from the high, windy desert of northern California to the more urbane and humane federal correction institution in Englewood, Colorado. I was able to visit with him three weeks ago, and I’m happy to report that a mischievous glow has returned to his face, and that his demeanor is as challenging as always. And remember: he’s in a federal correctional institution, where any challenge is potentially met with an order to “cease and desist.”

Tim should move to a halfway house in Salt Lake City sometime this fall. He will spend his evenings in confinement, but he’ll be able to participate in supervised community service during the day. If the present schedule continues, and the Bureau of Prisons does not change its interpretation of time served, Tim will be released to probation in April 2013.

Presently, in Colorado, Tim is preparing himself to take the graduate record exam for application to divinity school. Reverend Tom Goldsmith, of the Unitarian Church of Utah, has sparked Tim’s interest in attending divinity school, and among his many supporters one couple has tentatively volunteered to pay tuition. Any Orion readers who would encourage Tim in this direction should consider writing to him.

As an attorney, I have experienced many ups and downs during the three years I’ve represented Tim. I am very grateful to my co-counsels Ron Yengich and Elizabeth Hunt, who were invaluable during the course of Tim’s criminal trial. We are still awaiting a decision from our appeal to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals—and during my thirty-six years of practicing law, I have grown leery of making predictions. But rest assured that Orion will be among the first to hear when we receive news from the Tenth Circuit.

I attended a Unitarian service on Sunday, where they quoted Tim’s statement from his sentencing. If you haven’t read it, I would urge you to read it. In part, Tim focused on Judge Benson, who, in my judgment, had incorrectly directed the trial. “With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow,” Tim told the judge. “The choice you are making today is what side are you on.”

Write to Tim at his new location:

Tim DeChristopher #16156-081
9595 West Quincy Avenue
Littleton, CO 80123

Visit bidder70.org for further details.

Patrick Shea is a private practicing attorney and associate research professor of biology at the University of Utah. On February 21, 2012, Shea joined Orion for a live web discussion of how the justice system punishes protest, from Occupiers to climate justice camps. Listen to an audio recording, here.


  1. I am interested in Tim’s story and I am curious about the details…what does the disruption of an illegitimate oil and gas auction actually mean? And if it was illegitimate aka “illegal?”, why is he serving such a huge penalty? Was the disruption simply verbal? Thanks.

  2. Yes, Phil, good question. One would think that disrupting an illegal auction is the opposite of a crime, but the government pursued the case against Tim even after the publicity he caused revealed the sale to have been created without going thru the proper channels. But that’s why people call Tim a political prisoner. The court also would not allow the fact that Tim had raised enough $ to pay for the leases he won in the weeks thereafter, nor that ‘bid-walking,’ the practice of bidding w/o paying for the leases, is a common problem and that the companies involved are never prosecuted. Rather, the prosecutor charged him with a felony based on his statement at the auction that he was there in good faith and promised to pay for any leases he won.

    We discussed this at greater length with Patrick Shea during an Orion live web event this winter, listen here:



  3. Ed Hoagland in his recent memoir laments that he hadn’t been arrested. Tim’s civil disobedience seems so appropriate in these times.

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