By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
A man whose trial on drug charges was overseen by a judge who had earlier defended him against drug charges was not entitled to a new judge in his case, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.
The court unanimously upheld the conviction of Brian Neal Gilbert on various methamphetamine-related charges, along with his sentence of four to eight years in prison.
The court, in the opinion written by Justice Keith Kautz, rejected the argument that since the district court judge in Gilbert’s trial, Judge Kerri Johnson, had represented him in two previous drug cases, she would be biased in his case.
“(Gilbert) failed to present convincing evidence that Judge Johnson’s previous representation of him caused her to harbor such a personal bias or prejudice against him that she was unable to impartially base her decisions on the law and evidence,” the ruling said.
The ruling detailed a series of alleged methamphetamine transactions involving Gilbert between November 2019 and March 2020. He was arrested and charged with four counts, including conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine and possession with intent to deliver methamphetamine.
A jury found him guilty of all four counts and sentenced him to four to eight years in prison.
However, Gilbert, representing himself, asked for a new judge, saying Johnson had represented him “in two drug cases just like this one where I was not in possession of the drugs and it was found in a vehicle.”
Johnson assigned the issue to district Judge Catherine Wilking, who denied Gilbert’s request, saying he had not proven Johnson was biased or prejudiced against him.
Justices agreed that Gilbert failed to present evidence of Johnson’s alleged bias.
“Mr. Gilbert provided no evidence that Judge Johnson had any personal knowledge of the current proceedings against him based on her prior representation of him,” the ruling said. “Nor did he present any evidence that her prior representation of him caused her to harbor any personal bias or prejudice against him.
“His motion to disqualify Judge Johnson relied mainly on the fact she had ruled against him on various pretrial matters, which is an insufficient basis for disqualification,” the ruling continued.