Jun 8, 2015

Torrington judge to join Wyoming Supreme Court

Passing over a former Speaker of the state House and a Cheyenne litigator, Gov. Matt Mead has picked a district court judge from Torrington as the newest member of the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Long-time District Court Judge Keith Kautz will take his seat on the Supreme Court in August, when Justice Marilyn S. Kite retires.

Judge and justice-to-be Keith Kautz. Courtesy photo
Kautz has presided in the Eighth Judicial District in Goshen County since 1993. Before that, he spent about 15 years in private practice, including as a partner in the Torrington law firm of Sawyer, Warren and Kautz. Kautz graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1975 and from its college of law in 1978.

Gov. Mead picked Kautz over two private attorneys also nominated for the post: Robert Tiedeken of the Cheyenne firm Wolf, Tiedeken and Woodard and Tom Lubnau of the Lubnau Law Office in Gillette. The governor was something of a co-worker of Lubnau’s in recent years: the lawyer served as a Republican lawmaker in the state House of Representatives from 2005 to 2014 and was its speaker in his last two years.

“My choice was an extremely hard one to make. I thank the Judicial Nominating Commission for selecting three such outstanding candidates for me to choose from,” Mead said in a Friday news release. “Judge Kautz’s experience in private practice and his exemplary work on the bench for more than two decades gives me confidence that he will serve Wyoming and its citizens well on the Supreme Court.”

Kautz was a finalist for a Supreme Court post that opened up in 2012, but Mead chose a different district court judge, Michael K. Davis of Cheyenne, at that time.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to be able to continue my career serving the people of Wyoming,” Judge Kautz said in the news release from the governor’s office. “I’m really grateful to my family and friends for all of their support and I appreciate Governor Mead’s faith in appointing me to the Wyoming Supreme Court.”

 “I am deeply honored and humbled to be able to continue my career serving the people of Wyoming,” Judge Kautz said in a statement.

Kautz was involved in some prominent cases while a district court judge.

In 2011, he ruled that a lesbian couple who’d been married in Canada could not get divorced in Wyoming while gay marriage was illegal. The Wyoming Supreme Court later overruled Kautz. While not addressing the overall legality of gay marriages, the high court found the couple should be allowed to divorce. (A federal court legalized gay marriage in Wyoming last year.)

In a well-publicized 2012 case, Kautz sided with media groups and ruled a circuit court in Converse County was wrong to prevent the public from attending hearings or viewing court records in the early stages of sex crime cases. Wyoming law keeps the names of defendants charged with sex crimes (and their alleged victims) a secret until their case proceeds to the district court level, but Kautz said there was a way to do that without cutting off all public access. The Wyoming Supreme Court later affirmed Kautz’s decision, giving the public greater access to the early phases of sex crime prosecutions across the state.

Justice Marilyn Kite
The judge Kautz will replace on the bench, Justice Kite, is retiring Aug. 3. When Kite joined the court in 2000, she was the court’s first female member and she later became its first female chief justice.

The other justices on the five-member court are current Chief Justice E. James Burke, William U. Hill, Kate M. Fox and Davis.

Justices are paid $165,000 a year and have the final say on state law. After being appointed by the governor and serving their first year on the court, voters decide whether to retain them for subsequent eight-year terms. Justices must retire when they turn 70.

1 comment:

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