Lander— Facing a legal bill that already tops $1-million in a protracted Fremont County voting rights case and possible premium increases to its members, the Wyoming Local Government Liability Pool board has voted not to support an appeal in the federal action.
By a unanimous vote on Thursday, October 28, in Cheyenne, the seven-member board representing 20 Wyoming counties and 88 towns and cities said it would no longer provide legal coverage to Fremont County in the case.
“If Fremont County wants to pursue an appeal,” said Liability Pool executive director Mark Pring. “They will have to do it on their own.”
The board does plan to cover costs incurred by the county in the original case, while instructing its attorney to request the judge to lower the costs awarded.
In April, U.S. District Judge Alan Johnson ruled in favor of several Arapaho and Shoshone tribal members’ complaint that Fremont County’s at large election system discriminates against Native Americans on the Wind River Reservation. Johnson ordered Fremont County adopt a district election plan. Wyoming law allows both at large and district county electoral systems.
This summer, Judge Johnson rejected two alternative Fremont County election proposals, one of which would have created a “Native American super-majority district” while electing the remaining four members at-large, as having been “crafted in such a manner that they preserve the racial separation of the county.”
Fremont County has filed a notice that the county will appeal this narrower element of the case and asked the Local Government Liability Pool to pay for some of the legal costs. Fremont County is also represented pro bono as lead counsel by the Colorado-based non-profit, Mountain States Legal Foundation.
Since the original lawsuit was filed in 2005, the Local Government Liability Pool, a shared-risk legal cooperative that charges premiums to local governments, has paid $203,000 in attorneys’ fees and legal costs and faces another bill for $881,491 for plaintiffs attorneys fees and costs.
This compares to a total of $2.6 million in premiums, which the pool terms “contributions,” collected last year. In cases in which claims exceed reserves, said Pring, rates to all members can go up.
According to Pring, Fremont County paid $112,000 into the pool in the last fiscal year, a little more than a tenth of what the lawsuit is expected to cost the pool, not counting the cost of the appeal.
Interviewed before the board decision, Doug Thompson, chairman of the Fremont County board of commissioners said he was confident that the county would get backing from the Local Government Liability Pool.
“They’ve assured us that they are going to stick with us,” said Thompson. “They’ve been with us from the beginning and they’ve been very good to deal with.”
Thompson, a Sweetwater Station rancher, was working his stock Friday afternoon and not available for comment.
But already presented with the biggest bill in the 23-year history of the liability pool and facing possible rate increases to its members, the pool board had reached its limit. They instructed executive director Pring to inform Fremont County that the pool would not cover costs of the appeal.
Board chairman Ron Crook, of Lincoln County; Brad Basse, Hot Springs County; Jim Hudelson, Goshen County; Linda Smith, Rawlins; Greg James, Newcastle; Don Richards, Shoshone and Bob Wood, Dayton, also instructed pool attorney Richard Rideout to ask Judge Johnson for a reduction in the $881,491 in plaintiffs’ attorney fees.
Fremont County and its attorneys have until Tuesday, November 2, to file a response to the plaintiffs’ motion for attorneys’ fees and costs in the original case.
Editor’s Note: This is a follow up to an earlier report by Rone Tempest: Voting Rights Case Drags on in Fremont County – At What Cost to Other Counties and Towns?