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Published January 27, 2020
The College of Law was honored and privileged to serve as the host venue for the District Court of Wyoming for the Second Judicial District, where a full criminal jury trial was conducted January 21-23, 2020.
The change of venue from the Albany County Courthouse to the law school was a collaborative effort of the District Court, the Albany County Clerk of Court, the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, the University of Wyoming Police Department, the Albany County Attorney’s Office, and attorneys of the law firm Pence and MacMillan, LLC.
In 2009, the College of Law underwent a renovation of the south side of the building through privately raised funds to incorporate a fully functioning large moot courtroom, as well as a small moot courtroom. Known as the Brimmer Legal Education Center, the primary function of these rooms is to serve as classrooms, though they are capable of holding any type of court proceeding from jury trials to appellate oral arguments.
The College of Law has been fortunate enough to serve as a host venue for the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming, the Wyoming Supreme Court, and has been used for other court proceedings, trial preparations, and competitions. However, since the completion of the Brimmer Legal Education Center, the College of Law has dreamed of hosting a full jury trial in the large moot courtroom. Eleven years later, that dream finally became a reality.
The College of Law firmly believes in its mission to prepare students to be practice ready upon completion of their law degree. While a large portion of that mission is achieved through the experiential and clinical programs offered in the curriculum, a second component is allowing students the opportunity to witness first-hand real court proceedings, oral arguments, and legal practitioners in action.
During the jury trial, students were able to see several practicing attorneys, some of whom are College of Law alumnus in the courtroom including the Honorable Tori R.A. Kricken (B.S. ’96, J.D. ’00) as the presiding judge over the proceedings, defense attorneys Cole Sherard (B.S. ’99, J.D. ’04) and Greg Weisz (J.D. ’95), and the Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent and fellow prosecutor Ben Harwich.
The Court was very flexible and accommodating to students, allowing them to come and go as their class schedules allowed so they could witness as much as possible of the proceedings. Student reception was very favorable and several members of the College of Law faculty were even in attendance throughout the trial.
First-year student Matthew Klein was excited by the proceedings. “It was a tremendous experience to be able to sit in and observe a jury trial and to have it so accessible on campus,” he says. “I was able to witness procedural issues, direct and cross examination of a witness, closing arguments, jury instructions and the verdict. Anytime there are other opportunities to hold a trial at the law school I would strongly support being able to have that experience again.”
Administratively, the College of Law found it to be a useful educational tool for the students, and a really great way to see a very practical application of the degree that they are currently pursuing. It not only demonstrated the resiliency of the people who choose to pursue the legal profession, but also served as a powerful reminder to students as to why they are here.
For first-year law student Jennifer Thompson, the trial served as affirmation for her career path. “Having the opportunity to watch a trial from voir dire to verdict at the law school was a unique experience to see what we learn in class put into practice. Before this opportunity, I thought I was interested in trial work, now I know that is what I want to do.”
The incredible relationships that exist within the legal community of Wyoming are what make unique opportunities such as this to be so accessible to the students. The College of Law is particularly grateful to Judge Kricken for her willingness to move her Court to the law school, and advocating for the educational benefits of the students.
The College of Law would also like the thank and recognize both Counsels, who were extremely patient and gracious prior to and throughout the trial, as well as all of the clerks, the court reporter, the bailiffs, officers, and staff who made it possible.