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City seeks to solve court issue

The City of Sundance has opted to seek a new municipal judge rather than continue to wait for the Wyoming Supreme Court to approve its request for ordinance citations to be handled in Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, at the suggestion of Sheriff Jeff Hodge, the Crook County Sheriff’s Office will likely start enforcing a select number of city ordinances.

The city has contracted with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement for the last couple of years, to the overall satisfaction of both sides. However, two loose ends still remain and, at last Tuesday’s meeting, the city council made decisions to help tie up both.

The first of these is city ordinances, which the sheriff’s office has thus far not enforced, according to the terms of the contract. Public Works Director Mac Erickson was given the authority to be the city’s ordinance officer, with support from deputies as needed.

On Tuesday, Hodge suggested it would be “mutually beneficial” if deputies were able to enforce some specific ordinances, such as “dog at large”. Civic ordinances would remain in the purview of Erickson.

Hodge asked to sit down with a council member and work through the ordinances to decide which his deputies should enforce in time for the renewal of the contract in six months. Council Member Joe Wilson volunteered to take on the task.

Council members had various ideas on the ordinances that should be enforced. Mayor Paul Brooks, for example, said he would like to see theft of garbage service on the list.

When the contract with the sheriff’s office was signed, the council also decided to remove its municipal court in order to save an estimated $12,500 per year. After confirming that then-Circuit Court Judge Matthew Castano was willing to take on the caseload, City Attorney Mark Hughes petitioned the Wyoming Supreme Court for permission to make the change.

However, two years later, the city still has not received an answer.

Hodge suggested that the city might benefit from contracting with a new municipal court judge, which would likely be cheaper than the previous agreement with Judge Frank Stevens, who passed away earlier this year.

Mayor Paul Brooks confirmed that the cost for Stevens to act as municipal judge had been higher than similar contracts in nearby towns. This, he said, was due to mobilization – the judge was traveling from Gillette.

As for why the Wyoming Supreme Court has still not given an answer, Wilson wondered if it might have something to do with setting a precedent. Sundance has a small caseload of perhaps four to six tickets per year, according to Hodge, but Wilson suggested it might be more problematic if a large city like Casper decided to follow suit.

“I just get the feeling the court is not terribly interested,” agreed Brooks, remembering that the initial response to the request was along the lines of, “Why would you want to do that?”

City Attorney Mark Hughes said he has thoughts on a potential candidate and, with permission from the council, will now pursue them on behalf of the city.

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