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Legally Speaking

 

Issue: February, 2009
Author: Ronda Munger

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And Justice for All . . . Deliverable Promise or Wishful Thinking?

We all remember our school days and the Pledge of Allegiance, which begins, "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…" and ends ". . . with liberty and justice for all." And justice for all… sounds like a very big promise. I didn't know it as a child reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, but now having worked in the legal system for over 18 years, I truly understand what a big promise it is. Article 1, Section 8 of the Wyoming Constitution provides that "All courts shall be open and every person for an injury done to person, reputation or property shall have justice administered without sale, denial or delay." There are scholars more skilled than I to argue the meaning of that section of the Constitution, but it sure sounds like "and justice for all."

No matter the promises made and repeated in the day-to-day lives of the citizens of this state, the truth of the matter is not all people believe they are afforded the opportunity to live the "and justice for all" promise. Legal expenses and crowded dockets make some believe that justice is not delivered as expediently or affordably as it should be. Access to justice is a concept more easily talked about than accomplished. Just this past November, Wyoming Legal Services (WLS) closed its doors, removing one of the few resources that granted access to the court system for Wyoming's low-income citizens. I do not highlight this event to sound the alarm or disparage the legal services provided in Wyoming; quite to the contrary, I mention this event to sing the praises of the Wyoming Judiciary and the Wyoming legal community.

On November 11, 2008, Veterans Day to be exact, while many Wyomingites were enjoying a day off to celebrate the brave service of our nations' military, a boardroom full of Wyoming lawyers and judges spent their holiday working to provide answers and fill the void left by the loss of WLS. It was a very proud and uplifting day for me. I am not sure how to describe the feeling I had as I sat there and the events of the day unfolded. Genuine concern and the desire to do what was right filled the room. When I later reflected on the day, I was especially proud and grateful for the leadership and commitment of the Wyoming Judiciary. Justice E. James Burke and Justice Marilyn S. Kite participated on behalf of the Wyoming Supreme Court, and William F. Downes, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for Wyoming, and District Judge Scott Skavdahl drove down from Casper to attend. Four caring and dedicated judges, combined with the talent and skill of the Wyoming Bar, including participation by State Bar President, Rick Lavery, make me believe that "and justice for all" is not just wishful thinking. The focus by the Wyoming Judiciary on ensuring adequate legal services in Wyoming began recently when the Board of Judicial Policy and Administration (BJPA) created an Access to Justice Task Force to research the issue. The Task Force requested the BJPA submit an Order to the Supreme Court formally creating an Access to Justice Commission. On December 16, 2008, largely due to the efforts of the Task Force and the Veterans Day meeting, Chief Justice Barton Voigt of the Wyoming Supreme Court signed an Order Establishing the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission. Whether or not "and justice for all" is a deliverable promise remains to be seen, but my money is on Wyoming's lawyers and judges and the Access to Justice Commission.



Their Honors
This past October, Justice Marilyn S. Kite and Justice E. James Burke were honored for their work by the UW College of Law faculty. Justice Kite was honored as the Outstanding UW College of Law Alumnus, which is an award given for outstanding contributions to law and society. Justice E. James Burke was honored as Honorary Order of the Coif, which is an award given to lawyers, judges and teachers who have attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional achievements. Justice Burke was also recently recognized by the American Inns of Court, Cheyenne Chapter, as the Thomas E. Gorman Excellence in Professionalism recipient. District Judge Pete Arnold nominated Justice Burke.


Ronda Munger has worked for the Supreme Court for the past 12 years. Prior to her service with the Court, Ronda worked as a paralegal in Cheyenne and a high school English teacher in Worland.

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