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UW College of Law to Re-Create Law in the Wild West with Prominent Wyoming Officials

October 22, 2014
photos of former Senator Al Simpson and Amos Barber
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson will portray defendant Amos Walker Barber, the acting governor of Wyoming from Nov. 24, 1890, through Jan. 2, 1893, during a Johnson County War mock trial Wednesday, Oct. 29, at the UW College of Law. (UW Photo)

An all-star cast of prominent Wyoming officials will re-create roles related to one of the most famous gun battles in the Cowboy State’s Wild West history.

Implications from the famed Johnson County War will be the focus of a mock trial Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. at the University of Wyoming College of Law.

The free public event will be held in the courtroom in Room 178 of the College of Law Building, located at 19th Street and Willett Drive. In case of an overflow crowd, rooms will be reserved in the building with a live stream of the mock trial.

Spence Law Firm, in conjunction with the UW College of Law, will conduct the mock trial of an alleged actor in the Johnson County War. The trial will depict a case that was never heard before.

The College of Law, with collaboration and support from the Spence Law Firm, created the first Historical Trials program as a fun and interesting way to learn about the law and important events in Wyoming or U.S. history, says UW Law Professor Steve Easton. A mock trial is created from the facts from a chronicled event, in which parties involved never actually went to trial or were never brought to justice.

Easton and a team of UW law students researched the event to create a trial file that is as close as possible to the historical record.

“When selecting a potential case, we are looking for two major things” Easton says. “We are looking for an interesting event where a valid argument can be made on each side of the case, and an event that is well documented with a substantial amount of evidence so the trial file is accurate.”

Easton’s research team of first-year UW law students included Greyson Buckingham, Kelly; Evynne Fair, Arvada, Colo.; Dusty Honaker, Rock Springs; Sami Lejeune, Cheyenne; and David Volk, Greeley, Colo. Jeannie Tiemann from the Spence Law Firm used historically documented letters, diaries and confessions from actual participants in the cattle war (many of whom are portrayed in the mock trial) to create the trial file.

UW law students also relied heavily on the concise overview of the Johnson County War as described in “Wyoming Range War” by John W. Davis, as well as expertise provided by UW History Professor Phil Roberts.

The result of their efforts is State v. Barber, the “Johnson County Cattle War” case. The defendant in the trial will be Amos Walker Barber, the acting governor of Wyoming from Nov. 24, 1890, through Jan. 2, 1893. According to Easton, Barber was selected as the defendant because both the defense and prosecution can make a plausible argument about his involvement in the infamous range war.

For this year’s mock trial, an all-star cast composed of UW law students, alumni and professors, as well as prominent figures from around the state, was selected.

The list includes former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson (J.D. ’58) playing Barber; former Wyoming Gov. Mike Sullivan (B.S. ’61; J.D. ’64) as a defense attorney; Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Kate Fox (B.A. ’79; J.D. ’89) as a prosecuting attorney; author John Davis (B.A. ’64; J.D. ’68) as the witness Asa Mercer; State Treasurer Mark Gordon as the witness Sen. Joseph M. Carey; and District Judge Wade Waldrip (B.A. ’74; J.D. ’79), who will be the presiding Judge over the trial.

Third-year UW law students Clayton Gregersen from Big Horn and Laramie’s Laurene Rogers will serve as co-counsel with Fox and Sullivan.

“Working with Justice Fox has been incredible. Being able to gain that mentoring experience and bouncing ideas off of her has been a phenomenal opportunity, one that is certainly unique to Wyoming,” Gregersen says. “I think the event is going to be really fun. It is similar to an actual criminal trial, in that you can’t anticipate what the witnesses are going to say. As the attorney, you have to be prepared to go in whatever direction they take you.”

Rogers shares the opinion that working with Wyoming’s elite has been a remarkable experience.

“Working with Gov. Sullivan has definitely been the highlight. The vast amounts of knowledge he has about Wyoming and the law is so impressive,” she says. “As a student, getting to learn from him is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will be an impressive night for the public to see Gov. Sullivan and the rest of the fantastic cast in action.”

Keeping in the spirit of the event, the cast will be in full costumes. Wyoming Public Television will videotape the trial, with an anticipated broadcast next spring.

“The mock trial event itself will prove to be as historic as the case on which it is based,” Easton says. “The final component of the event is the opportunity for UW law students to gain some hands-on experience in front of a courtroom.”


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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Email: cbaldwin@uwyo.edu

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