Fremont County commissioners have confirmed they will appeal a U.S. District Court ruling that found the county’s at-large election system discriminatory against Native Americans on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
The commission’s decision comes just days after the Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool – of which Fremont County and several other Wyoming counties are paying members – voted unanimously to not cover any appeal costs related to the case.
From the time the lawsuit was first filed in 2005 until the ruling in April, the Local Liability Pool paid $203,000 in attorneys’ fees and legal costs. It also faces another bill for $881,491 for plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs.
Doug Thompson, chairman of the Fremont County board of commissioners, said the commission and the county attorney’s office estimate it will cost the county $25,000 to $40,000 to pursue the appeal.
“It’s to keep that case law from being put in place, and addressing a judicial error, and protecting the rights of citizens,” Thompson told WyoFile.
Thompson said he expects the Colorado-based non-profit Mountain States Legal Foundation will again provide representation pro bono as it did for the county in fighting the case in U.S. District Court.
The grounds of the appeal, according to Thompson, is U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson’s rejection of the county’s proposed plans to redress voting rights violations under the at-large election format.
In his dismissal of the county’s plans, Johnson said one of the proposals would likely “preserve the racial separation of the county.”
“We’re appealing his last decision on the plans we submitted,” said Thompson.
Thompson said the commission is pursuing an appeal on behalf of all Fremont County citizens, tribal and non-tribal. He suggested that Judge Johnson’s rejection of the county’s proposed redress plans assumes that tribal citizens vote in lockstep.
“And that’s wrong,” said Thompson.
Thompson said he believes the decision last week by the Local Government Liability Pool board not to cover costs of an appeal by Fremont County was influenced by coverage and editorials from local media. He added that the commission was set on pursuing an appeal “long before” the Local Government Liability Pool board decided not to pay for it.
“We left that up to the board. We asked them if they would or not. We didn’t say, ‘We want you to,’” said Thompson.
Editor’s Note: To read more about this issue, check out WyoFile’s past coverage: