A judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the Natrona County Republican Party against the state GOP.
Laramie County Judge Peter Froelicher ruled that Natrona County had no existing grounds to complain because the party had since adopted bylaws that make the complaint moot. Froelicher chose to delay ruling on the matter until after the State GOP convention took place in early May.
The State GOP sent out an email to its members on Friday about the ruling.
“We’ve talked about lawfare in the past,” the state party said. “It’s a tactic used by opposition to derail, defund, and demoralize a group using baseless litigation. Sorry, that won’t work in Wyoming! The good people of this state understand the petty tactics being used to criticize the party in efforts to defund and stifle the conservative voice in Wyoming politics.”
The dispute stems from the state party’s 2020 convention, where new bylaws were adopted requiring each county party to pay dues to the state party.
Natrona County opposed the way these 2018 bylaws were amended because the state GOP took a vote from the delegates present at the convention, not the total number of delegates elected. The county party filed a lawsuit over the bylaw change shortly after. Those bylaws were then ratified at the 2022 convention held earlier this month.
“Standing requires parties to have existing and genuine, as distinguished from theoretical, rights or interests, and there must be a controversy upon which the judgment of the court may effectively operate, as distinguished from a debate or argument evoking a purely political, administrative, philosophical, or academic conclusion,” Froelicher wrote in his May 20 decision.
The bylaw change occurred in response to Natrona’s refusal to pay dues to the state party, prompting the state Republican Party this January to cut the number of Natrona County delegates allowed to participate in this year’s convention, from 33 to six. This was a sizable drop for the second most populous county in the state, leaving it with less delegates than Niobrara, the least populous county in the state.
The state party also stripped Laramie County, the most populous county in the state, of all but three of its delegates due to an unrelated matter.
Even if the state party had not removed the delegates from the two counties, that would not have been enough to stop the ratification of the 2020 bylaws. Ninety percent of the delegates supported ratification in the 254-25 vote.
“The 90% majority amply demonstrates that those who are discontent within the Wyoming Republican Party are merely a vocal minority,” the state party said. “Even with Laramie County delegates not seated because of a county level failure to hold delegate voting according to local bylaws, the above vote vividly reflected the will of the convention delegation. Furthermore, even if Laramie County delegates had been seated, there would have been a supermajority ratification of the bylaws.”
Froelicher said the case was moot because it did not have any practical effect on any existing controversy, citing past Wyoming Supreme Court precedent.
“By its ratification at the 2022 State Convention, the defendant has cured the alleged error of not applying the plain and unambiguous language,” Froelicher wrote.
As of late April, the Natrona County Republican Party owed the state GOP $25,217 for dues that state party Treasurer Bob Ferguson said have been accruing since July 2019.
“It was not the ruling we were hoping for,” said Kevin Taheri, chairman of the Natrona County Republican Party.
In documents filed with the state district court in Natrona County, the Natrona County GOP said it refused to pay its dues because it did not support how the state GOP was being run and because of fundraising difficulties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Froelicher said no specific harm was caused to Natrona County GOP during the interim period between the 2020 and 2022 conventions. He also said there are disputed facts regarding the application of the 2020 bylaws in the interim.
“The court’s decision that the case is moot is also supported by the doctrine of standing and the cases cited by the defendant which demonstrate that courts are generally reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of voluntary associations,” Froelicher wrote. “Judicial intervention into the internal workings of a political party should be done cautiously and only where there is a clear justiciable controversy.”
County party precinct committee members are elected by the voters in public elections, but state delegates are elected by these committee members at the county conventions. Froelicher’s ruling indirectly gives precedence to public participation at county-level meetings and conventions rather than the state convention.
Taheri said the county party’s central committee will have to decide moving forward if it would like to pay its dues. Although the central committee opposed setting up a fund for people who wanted to donate to the party, Taheri said he set up a different committee to help raise funds for the party, which to date have raised $50.
“Hopefully going forward some progress will be made,” he said.