Issue: June, 2005
Author: Mary Angell
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Wyoming's Newest Judge - the Picture of Contentment
In his chambers decorated with wildlife photos and fly fishing memorabilia, long-time Cheyenne attorney Peter G. Arnold recently told the Wyoming Lawyer that he couldn’t be happier with his appointment to the First Judicial District bench.
“U.S. District Court Judge Alan Johnson said a month or so ago at the American Inns of Court that a state district court judge is the best judge job in the world,” he said, “and I agree with him.”
Arnold, 59, filled the position on the court created when E. James Burke was appointed to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“I always did have aspirations to be a judge, but I never really took affirmative steps to become one until late last year,” said Arnold. “I had a call from a friend suggesting I apply. My initial reaction was that I was content where I was. I discussed it with my wife Ruth, and she said, “Are you crazy?! You’ve always wanted to be a judge.” “Ruth has been my confidant for 36 years, and I place great value in her opinion.”
After graduating from the University of Wyoming School of Law in 1973, Arnold served five years in the U.S. Army. A captain in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, he was stationed first in Germany, then San Francisco. Arnold said the toughest career decision of his life was to leave the military and go into private practice.
“I was very content in the Army,” he said. “I had aligned myself to be career Army – a JAG officer.”
But when Arnold was offered a job by Don Riske, whom he had known since college, he accepted. He worked for the Cheyenne firm of Andrews, Andrews and Riske from 1979 until 1982, when he opened his private practice, which he maintained until 1991. At that point, he became partners with Riske, and practiced law under the firm of Riske and Arnold, P.C. until he took the bench several months ago.
“When I received the phone call suggesting I apply for the judgeship, the second thing I did after discussing the opportunity with my family was to go to Don and his wife to get their blessing to apply for the position,” he said. “They were both very supportive and enthusiastic – and delighted I was applying.”
“We have always either worked together, shared office space or been partners,” Arnold said of Riske. “We’re very good friends.”
As a judge, Arnold misses the relationships with his partners, Riske and Jim Salisbury, his clients and other attorneys.
“I enjoyed discussing cases with other attorneys. Now I’m no longer able to do that,” he said. “But all things considered, I’m still very pleased that I was selected to serve as a judge.”
“What I like about it is first of all, it’s tremendously intellectually stimulating, even more so than private practice,” Arnold said. “I like the pace of the job. This is more evenly paced than private practice. My private practice was limited to real estate, domestic relations and small business cases. Now I’m doing everything.”
Arnold may be the first lawyer in his family, but he won’t be the last. His daughter, Erin, 28, is in her middle year at the University of Utah Law School. After completing her undergraduate work at UW, she taught English in Prague, Czech Republic for several years.
“She sent me an e-mail from Prague that said, “I’m thinking of going to law school,” and I said, “That’s terrific! You would make a wonderful lawyer,” said Arnold. “I never attempted to persuade my children to enter the legal profession, but I was very pleased she made that decision on her own.”
In his spare time, Arnold enjoys backpacking, hiking, fly fishing and other outdoor activities, including golf. When his son Grady, 23, was in high school, the two of them played every golf course in Wyoming.
“It took us about three years to do it,” Arnold said. “There are some very nice courses in Wyoming, and also some, frankly, that are not worth the time and effort. But we had a wonderful time together and saw parts of Wyoming we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.”
Perhaps the judge’s most long-standing hobby is wildlife photography, an interest he’s pursued for 30 or 40 years. Arnold’s own wildlife photographs – digital images of waterfowl, fox, bobcat, pronghorn antelope and others – cover an entire wall of his chambers. One of the photos is a close-up of a badger looking straight at the camera. Arnold said although he has long camera lenses, this particular shot was taken from a distance of about five feet. “He was hissing at me, so I was ready to back away in a hurry if I needed to,” he said.
But Arnold is not about to back away from his place on the bench.
“In my interview with the governor, he asked me, ‘If I appoint you as judge, would you be interested in serving on the Supreme Court?’ and I said, ‘No. The District court is where all the fun is,’” he said. “I am just ecstatic that I am where I am, and I plan on staying here.”
Judge Arnold’s ceremonial robbing, which took place on May 6th in the Supreme Court courtroom, was attended by friends, dignitaries and relatives.
Mary Angell is a freelance writer from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Copyright © 2005 – Wyoming State Bar