2019 Spence Law Firm Historic Trial


Once again the University of Wyoming College of Law will be hosting the annual Spence Law Firm Historic Trial. This marks the fifth year for the event, which will take place on Monday, April 15th, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. in the College of Law Large Moot Court Room, classroom 178.

The College of Law, with collaboration from the Spence Law Firm, created the annual Historical Trial as a fun and interesting way to learn about important historical events through a legal lens, while also providing law students a way to simulate a trial of a high profile case. The Spence Law Firm Historic Trial is a fictional mock trial that is created from the facts of a chronicled historic event.

This year’s trial explores the Rock Spring Massacre of 1885. The Massacre was the result of the perceived threat of Chinese immigrant coal miners taking jobs away from white workers. Because they were willing to work for lower wages, the Union Pacific hired them to reduce labor costs and lessen the impact of the strikes that had become frequent at Union Pacific Railroad owned coalmines. The uprising and violence that ensued was the culmination of the labor and racial tensions.

In the fictional mock trial, Ming Lee, the widow of the Chinese owner of a laundry who was killed in the riot sues in a “wrongful death” action. She asserts that the Union Pacific’s labor actions caused the riot that killed her husband. Union Pacific asserts that others—i.e., the rioting miners—not the U.P., are legally responsible for the death of Mr. Lee.

The trial file for the event was written by second year law student Katelyn Krabbenhoft and third-year law student John Fritz. Fritz will also be serving as an attorney for the plaintiffs along with Mel Orchard of the Spence Law Firm of Jackson. Representing the defense will be third-year law student Ryan Felde-Vassallo and George Powers of the Cheyenne law firm Sundahl Powers Kapp & Martin, LLC.

This year marked the first year that the Historic Trial team branched outside of Laramie. Hosted by Western Wyoming Community College (WWCC), the College of Law held the same mock trial in March with the cast of third-year law student Paige Anderson and attorney Tyson Logan of the Spence Law Firm representing the plaintiff, and third-year law student Dawson Osborne and attorney Jim Phillips of Evanston serving as the counsel to the defendant. Members of the faculty and students from WWCC and the University of Wyoming College of Law played the role of witnesses and jurors.

According to UW Law Professor Steve Easton, the faculty director of the trial, both the Rock Springs trial and the Laramie trial are important events: “As ambassadors of the University of Wyoming, we were pleased to see 250 WWCC students and Rock Springs community members at our trial. The Rock Springs Massacre is the saddest event in our state’s history, which means we should learn from it so we can avoid repeating it. Because the attorneys on each side represent their clients zealously, these historic trials are both a great way to learn about both history and the trial process. We hope the UW and Laramie communities match the enthusiasm of the WWCC and Rock Springs communities, by attending in large numbers.” 

Holding the trial twice with entirely different legal teams, casts, and juries means that while the facts of the case are the same, the outcome of the trial could potentially be vastly different. The results from the Rock Springs version of the trial will be revealed at the conclusion of the Laramie event for comparison and discussion.

The cast will be in full costumes, and will try to be as historically accurate as possible. The trial itself, will utilize modern legal rules, procedures, and technology, but the underlying evidence and facts will be historically accurate.

The mock trial is free and open to the public. The Laramie trial will start with a presentation of a half hour Wyoming Public Broadcasting documentary about the Rock Springs Massacre, courtesy of Wyoming PBS, at 6:00 p.m. The trial itself will start at 6:30 p.m., with the hope the trial will be completed by about 9:30 p.m. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. Refreshments will be provided during an intermission in the trial. For further inquiries, please contact Christine Reed at the College of Law Christine.reed@uwyo.edu.


Contact Us

College of Law

1000 E. University Ave., Dept. 3035

Laramie, WY 82071

Phone: 307-766-6416

Fax: 307-766-6417

Email: lawadmis@uwyo.edu

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