City continues search for judge
January 12, 2023
The Sundance City Council will not be swaying from its chosen route regarding the enforcement of city ordinances– unless new information changes the game.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, Sheriff Jeff Hodge and City Attorney Mark Hughes both reported progress towards the end goal of deputies enforcing a select number of ordinances – leaving the civil ones to Public Works Director Mac Erickson as the city’s enforcement officer – and a contract with a new municipal judge to ensure there’s a place to submit tickets.
Hodge reported that he has now spent time with Council Member Joe Wilson, going over the ordinances to figure out which ones should be enforced by deputies and which should be left to Erickson. Progress has been made, he said, but this is just the first step.
“Somebody needs to start writing some tickets in town for the dogs at large and some of these other issues…but the first thing is, you’ve got to get a judge. We can’t write it until we have a court system,” said Hodge.
After the city signed a contract for law enforcement with the Crook County Sheriff’s Office, the initial plan was to ask Circuit Court to take on Sundance’s municipal caseload. Hughes spoke to this process, correcting a misstatement in a Sundance Times article from December, which said that he directly petitioned the Wyoming Supreme Court to allow Circuit Court to handle municipal cases.
“The Times reported that that agreement had been submitted to the Supreme Court. It has not been submitted to the Supreme Court,” Hughes said.
He clarified that he actually sent the agreement to Judge Matthew F.G. Castano, who left Circuit Court shortly afterwards upon being appointed a District Court Judge. Consequently, there was no movement on the issue for several months.
“I don’t know that the Supreme Court even knows that that’s what we’re proposing, because it’s just been sitting around for over a year,” said Hughes.
At December’s meeting, the council decided that it might be best to drop the Circuit Court idea and seek a new municipal judge instead. On Tuesday, Hughes asked if this was still the case.
His request was made in light of the fact that Judge Lynda R. Bush, who was appointed as Judge Castano’s replacement, had made an appointment for Hughes a few days after the council meeting.
Prior to that appointment, Hughes asked for clarity on how the council would like to proceed.
“I thought the way you wanted to go was to leave it with Mac as the enforcement officer and we find a city judge. Is that right?” he asked.
During the brief discussions that followed, Hughes stated that he feels it would be more efficient for the city to retain its own judge. Among other reasons to retain a municipal judge, Council Member Joe Wilson noted that the Circuit Court idea may not even turn out to be possible.
“It seems like we just need to go and see if we can find a judge. I don’t know if the Circuit Court is going to even allow us to do this,” said Wilson.
Hughes agreed that they may be “reluctant”.
The council had first considered the idea of abolishing its municipal court as a cost-saving measure. However, the Supreme Court would likely want to charge a fee of some kind for handling the caseload, said Hughes.
As an additional benefit, said Hughes, any fines handled via a municipal court would go directly to the city. Through Circuit Court, the fines would go to the public education fund.
In light of the council’s continued preference to hire a municipal judge, Hughes asked if the council would still like him to meet with Judge Bush.
“It wouldn’t hurt – it might be a whole different can of worms from what we’ve been thinking,” said Council Member Callie Hilty.
Hughes said he would report back to the council following the meeting.