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Wyoming Supreme Court

Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Man Who Threatened Wife With Gun

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A court made an error when it allowed certain testimony to be offered in the case of a man accused of hitting his wife with his car and threatening her with a gun, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

However, the mistake in the trial of Lloyd James Thompson was not enough to merit a reversal of his conviction on assault charges, the court said.

A jury in Casper convicted Thompson on two charges of aggravated assault and battery stemming from his arrest in a June 2019 dispute involving his wife.

According to the ruling, Thompson accused his wife of having an affair and she left their home, planning to walk to her sister’s house.

As she walked down the road, Thompson drove up quickly behind her in the couple’s vehicle, striking her left arm with its side mirror.

When his wife refused to get into the vehicle, Thompson said “he’d put a couple rounds in (her)” and then pointed a gun at her. His wife testified she began walking away when Thompson pulled the gun and then she heard it go off.

A neighbor and her daughter testified they saw a man in a vehicle follow a woman and later fire a handgun at a fence.

Thompson was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and battery, accused of using threatening to use a deadly weapon — the car and the handgun — on another person. He was convicted by a jury and sentenced to five years of supervised probation.

In his appeal, Thompson said officers from the Mills Police Department and Natrona County Sheriff’s Office were improperly allowed to repeat during the trial what Thompson’s wife had told them when she spoke about the incident.

Thompson argued law enforcement officers should only have been allowed to testify about what they did during their investigation of the incident — not what other people told them.

The court, in an opinion written by Justice Keith Kautz, agreed with Thompson.

However, justices said the error was not significant enough to overturn Thompson’s conviction because other evidence, including the testimony of Thompson’s wife, the statements of witnesses to the incident and Thompson’s own comments, was sufficient to justify his conviction.

“There is no reasonable probability the verdict would have been more favorable to Mr. Thompson had the improper … evidence not been admitted,” the opinion said.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Ability Of Nurses To Switch Companies

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Companies cannot use “non-compete” clauses to protect themselves against ordinary business competition, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court on Thursday overturned a district court’s ruling that three nurses who had worked for one home health care company in Evanston could not go to work for a competing company.

According to the ruling, Jennifer Brown, Nora Youngren and Carol Wolfe, all registered nurses, worked for Best Home Health and Hospice, a company that provides home health care in Uinta County. Wolfe founded Best Home in 2004 and sold it in 2009 or 2010.

In 2016, Youngren and Brown signed a “non-compete” agreement that said if they left Best Home, they would not work for a competing company within 50 miles for two years. Wolfe signed the agreement when she returned to work for the company in 2017.

All three nurses left the company between 2018 and 2020 and joined Uinta Home Health, a competitor to Best Home.

Best Home asked for and obtained a preliminary injunction to keep the nurses from working for Uinta Home Health pending the outcome of a lawsuit filed over their departure. The nurses objected to the injunction, arguing the non-compete clause was unenforceable, but it was granted by a state district court.

However, justices, in the opinion written by Justice Keith Kautz, said the state usually recognizes non-compete clauses only in special situations, as when an employer is worried an employee might share trade secrets with another company.

“Best Home did not show it would probably succeed in establishing a special business interest subject to protection by the non-compete provision of the agreement,” the opinion said. “Best Home did not identify any trade secrets, specific types of confidential information or special relationships being guarded through the non-competition provision …”

Justices also noted that the nurses were improperly prevented from offering evidence that if they were not able to work at Uinta Home Health, the public interest would be harmed because patient care would be jeopardized.

The court ordered new proceedings in the case.

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Wyo Supreme Court Allows Children’s Removal After State Repeatedly Tried Helping Family

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A state agency did what it could to keep a Rawlins family together before it recommended that its children be adopted by other parents, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has ruled.

The court unanimously upheld a juvenile court’s ruling that the four children of parents identified only as “AW” and “KM” should not be reunited with their parents because conditions in the home continued to pose a threat to the children despite repeated state efforts to improve them.

The ruling stems from a juvenile court’s decision in June 2020 to endorse a recommendation that the children be adopted.

“(The court) found that reunification with Mother and Father was not in the children’s best interests; (the Department of Family Services) had not only made reasonable efforts, but extraordinary efforts to reunify the family; and the offered services were ‘available, accessible and appropriate,’” the ruling said.

The recommendation and ruling came after more than one year of work by the DFS to help AW and KM keep their children, the ruling said.

The DFS began its efforts in February 2019, when agents visiting the home found the three children at home at the time “were unwashed and the home dirty,” the opinion said.

“This was the first of many incidents leading to the present proceedings and these appeals,” said the ruling, written by Justice Kari Gray.

After the fourth child was born, the DFS returned to the home several times and found that conditions had not improved and that the parents were failing to maintain adequate medical care for the youngest child, who needed oxygen.

The child was sent to Denver for treatment after the parents failed to have the newborn wear its oxygen mask.

The youngest child was placed with a foster family, the ruling said.

DFS then received a report of abuse of the other three children at their home, including claims that the children were locked in their rooms for extended periods, that bruising was found on two of the children and that all three had head lice. The children were taken into protective custody.

They were returned to their parents’ custody until the father tested positive for meth use in November 2019, when they were returned to foster care.

Leading up to June 2020, the DFS made nearly daily visits to the home, cleaning it, helping eliminate the head lice, providing parenting courses for the parents, providing psychological and parenting evaluations and counseling for the children, the opinion said.

It added the DFS continued to work toward reuniting the family, but after the youngest child returned home, it was discovered the parents did not administer the oxygen the child needed.

After the juvenile court agreed with the DFS that the children should be adopted by others, the mother and father appealed the decision, saying the court abused its discretion with the ruling.

The parents argued the DFS did not provide the services they needed to be reunited with their children, but both the juvenile court and the Supreme Court disagreed.

“There was sufficient evidence for the juvenile court to find that DFS made reasonable efforts to reunify the family,” the ruling said. “The juvenile court did not abuse its discretion.”

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Wyo Supreme Court: Man Who Confessed While Running Naked In Snow Does Not Win Appeal

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The confession of a Gillette man who ran naked into the snow after being contacted by police regarding allegations he sexually abused his daughter was properly admitted as evidence in his trial, Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The court unanimously upheld the conviction of Nicholas Jendersen, rejecting his arguments that he didn’t know what he was doing when he waived his rights to remain silent when speaking with police in 2016.

“Mr. Jendersen knowingly and intelligently waived his rights and confessed to law enforcement that he sexually abused his daughter,” the opinion said.

The case stems from Jendersen’s conviction in 2019 on four counts of sexual abuse. According to the ruling, Jendersen on Christmas Eve 2016 admitted to his brother-in-law that he had been inappropriately touching his daughter.

The brother-in-law advised Jendersen to tell his wife. When he did, she gathered the couple’s children and took them to the brother-in-law’s home while the brother-in-law contacted the Gillette Police Department.

When police arrived at Jendersen’s home, they found Jenderson walking out of his apartment naked. He slipped past officers and was tasered twice, but was able to run out the back door and into the snow, where he was tackled.

Police said as they took him to the hospital, Jendersen made odd comments, apologized to police and sang to himself.

An officer met Jendersen at the hospital and advised him of his rights to remain silent, at which point Jendersen nodded. Jendersen told the officer he had touched his daughter inappropriately a number of times and described the abuse in detail.

A few days later, Jendersen asked to speak to the police officer again, he was again advised of his rights and he again confessed in detail to the abuse.

Jendersen asked that his confession be suppressed and two forensic psychiatrists disagreed as to whether Jendersen was having a psychotic episode while he made his confession, which would mean he did not knowingly waive his rights to remain silent.

The trial court ruled Jendersen voluntarily and knowingly surrender his right to silence and he was sent to trial, where he was found guilty on four counts of sexual abuse.

The Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Kate Fox, said the trial court in Jendersen’s case accurately found that he was aware of the consequences of waiving his rights to remain silent.

“As a matter of law, the court correctly applied the facts and concluded Mr. Jendersen was aware of the nature of the right to remain silent and the consequences of his decision to abandon that right,” the opinion said.

Justices also rejected Jendersen’s argument that his defense attorneys did not effectively represent him.

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Wyo Supreme Court: Man Who Tried To Bomb Other Man Loses Appeal

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man convicted of conspiring to blow up another man lost his latest appeal to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

The court on Tuesday unanimously rejected the appeal of Ryan Alexander Brown, who asked that his life sentence be overturned because of a slight difference between the life sentence announced in court by the judge in his case and the written version of the same sentence.

Brown was convicted in 2015 of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder for conspiring with two other men to kill a Cheyenne man he believed was having an affair with his wife. The plot involved a homemade pipe bomb that was to be installed in the man’s car.

When issuing the sentence in court, the judge announced that Brown would be sentenced to “a term of natural life, according to law.”

But the written version of the sentence said Brown would be sentenced to prison for “the length of his natural life” and did not mention “according to law.”

Brown alleged in November 2020 that his sentence was illegal because of the differences and asked that it be corrected. The state district court in Albany County simply changed the written record of the sentence to add the phrase “according to law.”

Brown appealed the action, arguing a sentencing hearing should have been held before the change was made.

But justices, in the opinion written by Justice Lynne Boomgaarden, said a sentencing hearing would only be warranted if substantial changes had been made to Brown’s sentence by the district court.

“There being no change in his sentence, Mr. Brown had no constitutional right to a sentencing hearing,” the court ruled.

Brown also argued his sentence was improper because it originally mentioned the possibility of parole, but when it was changed, the mention of parole was removed.

Under Wyoming law, anyone convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime faces the same punishment as if they were convicted of the crime itself. The only two punishments for first-degree murder are the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Justices said when Brown’s written sentence was corrected, it properly removed the erroneous reference to a possibility of parole.

The appeal was the second stemming from Brown’s conviction. In 2016, justices rejected his arguments that some evidence against him in his trial was improperly introduced.

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Wyoming Supreme Court Rejects Request To Remove Agent’s Name From Censure Report

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s Supreme Court has rejected a request to remove the name of a law enforcement agent from an order censuring a former Laramie County deputy district attorney.

Justices, in an order responding to the request from Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill, said the attorney general’s office was part of the censure of David Singleton, so it has no standing to ask for a change in the final order.

“The attorney general, as a non-party, does not have standing or party status to challenge the ‘Order of Public Censure’ at issue,” said the order signed by Chief Justice Michael Davis.

Hill asked the court earlier this month to remove from the censure order the name of Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Jon Briggs.

The censure stems from Singleton’s behavior when charges were brought against Laramie County hemp growers Deborah Palm-Egle and her son Joshua Egle for raising marijuana.

According to the order, Briggs made incorrect statements during a hearing in the case that Singleton failed to correct.

Briggs’ actions were not the subject of disciplinary action, Hill said, but by including his name and the allegations against him in the censure order, the Supreme Court has in effect punished him.

“The Board of Professional Responsibility, the Wyoming State Bar and this court’s jurisdiction … was limited to disciplining a member of the Wyoming State Bar — David E. Singleton,” Hill’s motion said. “While the this process did not impose ‘formal discipline’ against Agent Briggs, the report and recommendation and subsequent press release approved by this court have accomplished the equivalent of formal discipline.”

But justices found that because the attorney general was not involved in bringing the request for Singleton’s censure to the Supreme Court, it has no authority to ask for changes in the resulting order.

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Laramie County Prosecutor Censured For Failing To Correct Flawed Testimony

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A former Laramie County prosecuting attorney who unsuccessfully tried the operators of a hemp farm on marijuana trafficking charges has been censured by the Wyoming Supreme Court for his behavior during a hearing.

David Singleton, a former assistant district attorney, was censured by the court Wednesday for failing to correct flawed testimony given by an investigator during the preliminary hearing for Josh Egle and Deborah Palm-Egle on charges including conspiracy to manufacture, deliver or possess marijuana and cultivation of marijuana.

A censure is a formal public reprimand issued by the Supreme Court. A censured attorney can continue to practice law.

Josh Egle and his mother Deborah Palm-Egle operate a hemp farm in Albin. In November 2019, the farm was searched by Division of Criminal Investigation agents who seized more than 700 pounds of drying hemp to have it tested for THC content.

At the time the plants were seized, Brock Dykes, a construction contractor who was hired to perform some work on the farm, showed the agents the results of a test on the hemp conducted by Botanacor, an independent laboratory that tested the hemp for levels of THC, the ingredient active ingredient in marijuana.

Marijuana is derived from hemp that has a THC content of more than 0.3%.The Botanacor test results, which were stored on Dykes’ cell phone, showed the hemp raised at the farm had a THC content of less than 0.3%.

According to a report prepared for the Supreme Court by the state Board of Professional Responsibility, the body responsible for enforcing ethics rules among Wyoming’s attorneys, a test of the hemp conducted for the DCI showed its THC content to be above 0.3% and in April 2020, Singleton filed charges against Egle, Palm-Egle, Brock Dykes and his wife Shannon.

During a preliminary hearing held in July, a DCI agent testified that the test results from Botanacor showed the hemp contained more than 0.3% THC, which was inaccurate.

The attorney for Egle and Palm-Egle contacted the agent during a break in the court proceedings and asked him to correct the testimony when proceedings resumed.

The report said a similar request was sent to Singleton.

However, when proceedings resumed in August 2020, the agent simply said he did not remember paying attention to the Botanacor report.

“Thus, rather than correct the inaccurate testimony he offered at the first hearing regarding the test results, (the agent) continued the prevarication,” the report said. “(Singleton) conditionally admits that his questions to (the agent) … rather than clarify the record … had the effect of further muddying the record, and, accordingly, constituted another breach of his obligation of candor to the (court).”

At the end of the preliminary hearing, the judge found there was no intent on the part of Egle and Palm-Egle to violate marijuana laws. Singleton dismissed the charges.

The Board of Professional Responsibility recommended Singleton be censured for failing to correct false information given in court when he knew it to be false.

The board also said because Singleton had never been the subject of disciplinary action in the past and because he cooperated with the investigation, he should only be subject to a reprimand and not a more severe punishment such as suspension or disbarment.

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Wyo Supreme Court: Saudi Arabian Resident Doesn’t Have to Argue Custody Case Against Russian Wife in Teton County

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

In a ruling stretching across three continents, Wyoming’s Supreme Court has decided it would be inconvenient for a man in Saudi Arabia to respond in Jackson to a motion in a custody case filed by the man’s ex-wife in Russia.

The court unanimously upheld a lower court’s decision that a request for a change in a custody agreement issued in Teton County in 2016 be heard in a court in Bahrain rather than Jackson.

The ruling stems from a custody agreement issued in the divorce of Ekaterina Nicholaevna Pokrovskaya and Eric Van Gendern.

According to the ruling, Pokrovskaya and Van Genderen married in 1992 and had a child in 2008. In 2016, they divorced in Teton County.

At the time of their divorce, Pokrovskaya lived in Russia and Van Genderen and their child lived in Teton County.

The divorce decree granted the father custody and the mother was granted visitation 10 days each month.

In 2018, the father and child moved to Russia, then spent the summer of 2019 in Morocco before moving to Bahrain. Pokrovskaya remained in Russia.

Pokrovskaya asked for a modification in visitation rights in 2019, saying Van Genderen had frustrated her visitation rights and alienated the child from her.

Van Genderen asked that the request be dismissed in state district court on the grounds it was no longer a convenient forum for him and then filed custody proceedings in Bahrain. The proceedings Bahrain were paused until the question of where the arguments could be heard could be settled.

A district court in Teton County dismissed Pokrovskaya’s motion and she appealed, saying the district court abused its authority with the decision.

But the Supreme Court’s opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray, found that the district court properly weighed all the evidence before it when it made its decision, including the distance and cost to travel between Bahrain and Jackson and the fact that most of the records in the case can be found in either Bahrain or Russia.

The ruling also noted the district court examined the fact Russian authorities “investigated a domestic violence allegation against mother that occurred during a visit with the child.”

“(The district court) concluded, on balance, the circumstances in this case weighed in favor of (allowing the proceedings to continue in Bahrain),” the opinion said. “The district court’s findings and conclusions are supported by the record before us.”

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Wyo Supreme Court: Self-Defense Claims Rejected In Lover’s Triangle Shooting

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A man’s claims that he acted in self-defense when he shot a Cheyenne man during a quarrel stemming from a lover’s triangle were rejected Friday by Wyoming’s Supreme Court.

The court upheld the conviction of Timothy Dean Leners on charges of attempted second-degree murder in the December 2017 shooting of Christopher Trout, saying the evidence did not support his claims of self-defense.

“The evidence at trial devastated Mr. Leners’ justification of self-defense to charges of attempted second-degree murder,” said the opinion, written by Justice Kari Gray.

According to the ruling, Leners drove from Nebraska to Cheyenne on Dec. 23, 2017, intending to remove Trout from the apartment he shared with his wife Joyce Trout. Joyce Trout and Leners had been involved in an eight-month relationship which she ended about two weeks prior to the shooting to return to her husband.

When Leners showed up at the apartment, Christopher Trout “was not receptive to his arrival.” Leners and the Trouts spoke in the apartment for a while and when Christopher Trout left the apartment to run some errands, Leners started moving his belongings into the apartment.

When he returned to his apartment, Christopher Trout heard his wife and Leners arguing. He ordered Leners to leave his home and the two got what Trout described as “a little pushing match” as he opened the door and put Leners’ belongings outside.

Christopher Trout testified that Leners went to his pickup truck and when he returned, he had a handgun that he was pointing at Trout. After a struggle over the weapon, Leners was shot in the chest.

Joyce Trout’s account of the incident was similar to that of her husband, the opinion said, while Leners’ account differed somewhat. Over time, the details of his account changed, but he maintained he shot Trout because Trout had attacked him, so he acted in self-defense.

Leners, who was sentenced to 25 to 35 years in prison after his May 2019 trial, appealed his conviction, saying his attorney was ineffective because he failed to object to evidence that was introduced by prosecutors late in the trial process.

The evidence consisted of recordings of calls between Leners and Christopher Trout as Leners drove from Nebraska to Cheyenne in which Leners referred to Trout as a “troll, rapist and pig” and said he wanted to kill Trout.

Leners said the late introduction of the evidence amounted to prosecutorial misconduct and the failure of his attorney to object to the evidence was ineffective assistance of counsel.

But the Supreme Court unanimously rejected the argument, saying the evidence did not prejudice the case against Leners because there was sufficient other evidence to disprove his self-defense claim.

“We agree with the district court’s conclusion that the evidence ‘doomed’ Mr. Leners’ argument that he acted in justifiable self-defense,” the opinion said. “While the statements in (the recordings) were most certainly not helpful to Mr. Leners’ defense, the evidence which preceded this exhibit had already secured the verdict.”

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Wyoming Supreme Court Rules Against Swiss Insurance Company In Dispute With Sinclair

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A Swiss insurance company that refused to pay the Sinclair Co. for damage to its refinery in Wyoming lost its bid to avoid paying legal fees in the dispute on Monday.

Wyoming’s Supreme Court ruled that state laws do not give the company Infrassure immunity from paying for legal fees if it loses its legal dispute with Sinclair.

The ruling stems from a 2013 fire and explosion at the company’s refinery in Sinclair, near Rawlins.

According to the ruling, the Sinclair Companies, the parent company for the refinery, bought insurance coverage from 18 different companies including Infrassure. All of the companies except Infrassure agreed to pay a portion of the damages resulting from the fire.

Sinclair sued Infrassure and as part of the lawsuit, asked that Infrassure be required to pay attorney fees if Sinclair won the action.

But Infrassure objected, saying state law only would require it to pay legal fees if the policy had been delivered directly to Sinclair offices in Wyoming.

The address listed on the policy itself is for Sinclair’s office in Salt Lake City.

Infrassure said since there is no evidence the policy was delivered to a Wyoming location, it does not have to pay legal fees for Sinclair.

A federal court agreed with the insurance company, but a federal appeals court said too many questions surrounded the issue and sent the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court for a final decision on language in state law.

The Supreme Court’s opinion, written by state District Judge Suzannah Robinson, who sat in with justices for the case, said the Legislature clearly did not intend for insured companies to suffer just because a company’s Wyoming office did not get a copy of a policy.

“We conclude the statute clearly and unambiguously provides that an insurance contract is issued for delivery in Wyoming if the policy issued is intended to protect an insured in Wyoming against risks in Wyoming,” it said. “To withhold the protections of (state law) from Wyoming businesses insuring risks in Wyoming simply because the address listed on the policy is in a different state is nonsensical.”

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