Judge Tosses Lawsuit Seeking To Oust 4 Of 5 Sheridan County Commissioners

A lawsuit filed by the Sheridan County Republican Party seeking to oust four of that county’s five commissioners was tossed out by a judge Monday. The judge found the Sheridan GOP lacked standing to bring its lawsuit and failed to meet the burden of proof of any wrongdoing.

Leo Wolfson

March 13, 20243 min read

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A lawsuit filed by the Sheridan County Republican Party seeking to oust four of five county commissioners has been rejected.

The lawsuit accused the four commissioners of knowingly and willingly failing to discharge their duties and oaths of office when they failed to accept any of the three candidates nominated by the county party to fill a vacancy on the commission.

The commissioners eventually handed the decision off to a judge who selected the replacement commissioner. That commissioner, Holly Jennings, is the only one not included in the lawsuit.

No Standing, Not Enough Proof

Judge Thomas Sullins, who came out of retirement to rule on the case, said the Sheridan GOP lacked standing to bring its lawsuit and failed to meet the burden of proof to show that the commissioners knowingly and willingly failed to perform their duties.

The party, which wanted the commissioners removed from their elected seats, claimed members of the Sheridan County Commission “sought to undermine the democratic selection process choosing to blatantly disregard their statutory duty in an attempt to handpick the next member of the board,” the lawsuit says.

The party also said the commissioners held personal biases against some in the local party that influenced their actions, including excerpts of text messages to back up the claim.

“Competent and persuasive evidence was not presented at trial to establish that any of the four defendant commissioners (a) refused or neglected without just cause to perform any duties required of him or her as member of the board of county commissioners, or (b) knowingly committed any act which by law is in violation of his or her official oath and bond,” Sullins wrote in his order filed with the court Monday.

Proving standing requires a demonstration to the court that a sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged will support their participation in the case.

There is a bit of ambiguity in Wyoming law as to whether commissioners are required to fill a vacancy on their board. Sullins did not address this matter in his ruling.

Wrong Interpretation

Sullins said that Wyoming law dictates that only an attorney general or governor can call for the removal of a county commissioner.

State law says the governor can direct the attorney general to investigate a county officer’s misconduct “if the governor believes the ends of justice demand” to determine whether the attorney general should file criminal or civil proceedings.

Sullins said the Sheridan GOP interpreted the law to mean that the governor would be relegated to a ministerial role of removing a county commissioner after a private cause of action found misconduct.

He also agreed with the commissioners that if the party were to win the case, “The courts could be inundated with attempts to subvert the will of the electorate to that of any discontented individual who disagrees with a commissioner’s decision.”

Sheridan County Commissioner Chair Nick Siddle told Cowboy State Daily he’s pleased with the judge’s decision and believes the commissioners acted properly.

“I’m happy with the verdict and I’m just looking forward to going forward as commissioner,” Siddle said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter