Issue: April, 2005
Author: Mary Angell
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Wyoming Welcomes Roberts as Newest Circuit Court Judge
If it weren’t for his friends’ and family’s confidence in him, Wyoming’s new Ninth Judicial District Circuit Court judge might be wielding a hammer today instead of a gavel.
As a young man, Wesley Roberts wanted to be a carpenter. He never imagined himself as a judge.
“My whole career, people have seen my potential and seen the possibilities before I did,” he told the Wyoming Lawyer recently. “I did great academically in high school, but growing up in a blue collar family, I didn’t see myself having a white collar profession.”
He recalls wanting to drop chemistry class in high school. He just wanted to be a carpenter, he told the teacher, who refused to let him drop the class and advised him to consider all his possibilities.
“I stayed in chemistry class and graduated from high school,” Roberts said. “I had no plans to go to college, so I hadn’t pursued a scholarship. I was going to go to work and build houses.”
Then his mother suggested he look into a scholarship she had discovered.
So Roberts ended up going to the University of Wyoming and graduating with honors in 1981 with a degree in marketing. Even as a college graduate, he stayed true to his roots and, like his father, went into the oil and gas industry. He worked for three years in oil field sales and marketing.
“I was a regional sales manager for a company that made a rubber product used in the oil fields,” he said. “Then I was offered a transfer to either Houston or Oklahoma City. I’d had a chance to do a lot of traveling in my work, and I knew I wanted to stay in Wyoming.”
“The oil fields were really going bust at the time; the rig count was going down steadily. The transfer was offered because they were going to shut down in Wyoming. It was a good time to get out,” Roberts said. “I wanted something a little more recession-proof, so I decided to go to law school. It ended up being a great choice. I hadn’t really thought that much about going to law school, but I knew that my grades were such that I could do it.”
He graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 1987.
“I went into law school thinking I would come out and still be in the oil and gas industry—until I got out of law school and realized all the different options,” he said.
Roberts started in a small law practice in Riverton, where he practiced for five years and served as assistant city attorney. Over the years, White, White and Kennan became White, White and Roberts, and in 1992, Roberts opened his own practice. Two years later, a law school friend, Frank Watkins, became a partner in the firm.
“People supported me over the years, sometimes when I didn’t see that potential,” Roberts said. “I had a friend who was a prosecutor here. He said, ‘Someday, I see you wearing a black silk.’ I didn’t even know what he was talking about. He said, ‘You’ll be a judge someday. You have the personality.’ I had never even given it a thought.”
His first experience on the bench was as an alternate municipal judge from 1992 to 1996. When the municipal judge retired, Roberts was appointed to the bench—a position he held until the end of 2001. As he continued his private practice, he also served on the juvenile drug court, as district court commissioner, and occasionally as Circuit Court judge. After a couple of years’ absence from the bench, Roberts was again appointed to the municipal court in 2004, where he served until he was appointed to the Circuit Court.
Once again, someone else saw greater achievements ahead for Roberts.
“I remember the pastor of my church told me, ‘I see you as a judge at a higher level,’” he said.
That vision has now become reality, and Roberts can finally dedicate himself completely to being a judge.
“I like the opportunity to really dig into this and focus,” he said. “This is the first time I could do this. This job gives me an opportunity to study the finer points of being a judge and think of it as a full-time career, not just part-time.”
Roberts said he’s been fortunate to have had some great judges in his district—like Judges Elizabeth Kail, Nancy J Guthrie and D. Terry Rogers--to serve as role models.
“The common thread in every one of the judges I admire so much is they were always respectful of attorneys,” he said. “It was obvious they all practiced law in their earlier careers and had never forgotten the struggles they all went through as attorneys.”
Despite the struggles, Roberts said he’ll miss practicing law.
“I knew the minute I got the phone call that I would really miss private practice,” he said. “It is an honorable profession, being an attorney. There’s an opportunity to help people solve problems and work with them. I have met some of the greatest people in the world.”
“I’ll miss the camaraderie out there when you are an attorney,” he added. “I don’t think the friendships end, but the interactions with attorneys have to change. The attorneys call me ‘Your Honor’ now that I’m a judge, and they called me Wes for 17 years.”
Roberts certainly never dreamed he’d someday be addressed as “Your Honor” back when he was a kid who just wanted to be a carpenter, but some things never change.
“I’ve never lost my love of carpentry,” he said. “I worked as a carpenter when I was 13 years old and in high school and thoroughly enjoyed it. I still tinker a little, but we’ve been in the same house for 12 years. There’s not a whole lot I can do with it. It’s been kind of a hobby.”
He also enjoys carving wooden waterfowl decoys when he finds the time.
Another hobby is working with youth soccer organizations. Roberts has served on boards and otherwise been involved with soccer teams for more than 12 years, coaching on both the recreational and competitive levels. His three teenage children, Brock, Lauren and Bryce, have all played the sport.
“We’ve all become soccer fanatics,” he said.
A third generation Wyoming native, Roberts is as deeply rooted in the Wind River area as the natural resources his father worked to yield--and very much a product of the people who supported him throughout his life.
“I have been really blessed to live in a community with nice folks. They are friendly, and if they have a compliment, they feel free to give it,” he said. “I want to stay here. I feel good about serving the community as a Circuit Court judge.”
One of his goals as Circuit Court judge is not to forget what it’s like to be an attorney.
“I’m going to work well with attorneys and respect what they do, remember what it was like to be out there in private practice,” he said. “I don’t know how most judges feel, but I will always feel I am an attorney first, part of a great profession.”
Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Copyright © 2005 – Wyoming State Bar