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Legally Speaking


Issue: October, 2005
Author: Mary Angell

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Deegan Returns to the Bench

The day after his swearing in as a new judge in Wyoming’s Sixth Judicial District, Nick Deegan was eager to tackle its burgeoning caseload.

“Load me up,” he told the Wyoming Lawyer. “I’m ready to roll.”

Deegan, 54, fills a new seat on the bench created by the Wyoming Legislature in response to a backlog in the courts in Campbell, Weston and Crook counties.

“I got right to work,” he said. “I’m sure they have done the very best they can under the circumstances. I think it will take me about three months to appreciate the ebb and flow of the caseload.”

Deegan is no stranger to judge’s robes. After serving as municipal court judge in Rawlins from 1983 to 1988, he was appointed county judge for Campbell County, where he gained retention in 1990 and served until 1994.

In 1995, he went into private practice in Gillette. Soon after, he was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives and served nearly three terms, from 1997 until 2002, when he started as a clerk for Judge Terrence O’Brien in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Now, after an 11-year absence, he’s returned to the bench.

“It’s good to get back,” he said. “It’s funny how it comes back to you. I got on the bench yesterday and found myself taking notes as I used to. Wearing the black robe and being on the bench is not unfamiliar to me; it’s getting current with child support (statutes) and working through the court proceedings that are all brand new.”

“The district court tends to see cases involving more parties than those in circuit court, and the litigants’ use of attorneys is the norm at this level rather than a rarity,” Deegan said.

“District court cases are far more complex,” he said. “They raise more complex issues. With the coalbed methane industry (here), you have a lot of interesting cases, conflicts between the owners and the people with rights to develop minerals on the property. It’s all together different for me. The amount of money in these cases is way different. It will be a real challenge for me.”

He added that the sentencing is also more consequential.

“Here we’re dealing with trials of criminal cases, felonies, making decisions whether or not somebody needs to be sent to the state prison or the women’s facility in Lusk and we get into years, not months,” he said.

Deegan said his experiences with Judge O’Brien will be helpful in his new appointment.

“He was a tremendous mentor to me,” he said of O’Brien. “For those who play tennis, they say if you play with somebody who is much better than you are, it raises your game. Judge O’Brien absolutely raised the standard of play altogether. He has high expectations and standards. It builds your confidence a great deal when all is said and done to be able to produce a product with which he was pleased.”

Looking back on his years as an attorney, Deegan said he was fortunate to have had the privilege of practicing in front of top notch judges.

“I’ve always been treated with courtesy and had time to prepare my cases, he said. “While I didn’t always win, I’ve never seen a decision that was not well-reasoned.”

Now he’s looking forward to serving the members of the Bar.

“I feel (judges) have a special obligation to the members of the Bar,” he said. “I always want them to know I am open to constructive criticism. I know how hard they work and what a very challenging job they have.”

“I like to see people get their cases heard with dispatch,” he added.

In his spare time, Deegan likes to work on home improvement projects with his wife, read and ride his bike— or walk, something he often did during his tenure at the 10th Circuit Court.

“Every case I worked on I’d have one or two sticky things, and during my walk, I would think about it,” he said. “Most of the time when I got back, I’d figured out a good approach. Walking clears your head, gives you perspective. And it lets you see that there are people out there other than litigants.”

Copyright © 2005 – Wyoming State Bar