A federal judge received improper proposals — which he neither reviewed nor considered — regarding how he should decide on the high-profile corner-crossing trespass case, according to a ruling he filed Friday.

Chief U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl commented on the irregular suggestions as he concluded that four Missouri hunters were not guilty of trespass for crossing through the airspace above a corner of Fred Eshelman’s Elk Mountain Ranch in Carbon County.

Before making his decision in the civil case “and with greater frequency in recent weeks,” there were various attempts by phone and email to sway him, Skavdahl wrote. That lobbying came from people who were not authorized to participate, making it improper under court rules and the general concept of justice.

“These submissions have come from people who are not parties to this case, and who, unlike the [approved] parties, have not been given permission by the court to tender a submission that can be viewed and responded to by all parties,” Skavdahl wrote. “[T]he court has neither reviewed, or considered the submissions as part of examining the issues in this case.”

“The founders of the United States sought to insulate the Judicial branch of government from public opinion so judges could apply and be influenced only by the law.”

Judge Scott Skavdahl

Interested parties have an avenue to participate in such legal skirmishes and several took advantage of that in the civil suit brought by Eshelman. Skavdahl’s court granted Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Wyoming Stock Growers Association and Wyoming Wool Growers Association “amicus” status, for example, allowing them to file briefs supporting their interpretations of trespass laws.

But others are not supposed to have what’s known as ex-parte, or one-sided, communications with the judge, according to judicial rules and practices. Court staff filtered the surge of “improper submissions,” the judge wrote.

The case

The hunters never set foot on Eshelman’s land as they stepped from one piece of public property to another in an area of checkerboard-pattern land ownership, according to court filings. Yet, their hunts on public land in 2020 and 2021 resulted in criminal charges and Eshelman’s civil suit.

A Carbon County jury found Bradly Cape, Phillip Yeomans, John Slowensky and Zach Smith not guilty of criminal trespass last year.

Eshelman filed his civil suit seeking more than $7 million in damages and it advanced from state to federal court due to the involvement of federal property managed by the Bureau of Land Management. In Friday’s ruling, Skavdahl said that corner crossing on foot in the checkerboard area does not constitute trespass.

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl (Wyoming Supreme Court)

An attorney for the hunters said he expected an appeal. Skavdahl also found that one issue — not related to corner crossing — remains undecided.

That’s whether digital marker “Waypoint 6” placed by hunter Smith in the onX Hunt mapping app proves he was on Elk Mountain Ranch at one point. Smith said he never set foot on the ranch and his lawyers say Waypoint 6 could have been made from anywhere.

A trial date for that remaining issue is set for June. If the Waypoint 6 kerfuffle does go before a jury, Eshelman could receive no more than nominal damages of $100 if he prevails, Skavdahl wrote Friday.

Meantime, the judge penned a lesson in jurisprudence, first by quoting precedent. “Whereas the fundamental function of a legislature in a democratic society, assumes accessibility to [public] opinion, the judiciary does not decide cases by reference to popular opinion.”

He elaborated.

“The founders of the United States sought to insulate the Judicial branch of government from public opinion so judges could apply and be influenced only by the law, not by popular opinion or public polling,” Skavdahl wrote. “The court has done its utmost to decipher the applicable law and apply it to the facts of this and every case.

“To the extent of this court’s determination of the law is believed to be erroneous, the remedy is for a party to take in an appeal.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. WHY wealthy landowners feel it necessary to go to these lengths to “protect” their holdings is dubious at best, had these out-of-state hunters caused damage to this landowner’s property this would be an entirely different matter but he chose an avenue as to say “it’s mine and you can’t even look at it” type of “rich man’s syndrome” which really has no place in today”s world of the last stand for an honest working citizenry to take advantage of PUBLIC LAND, albeit a poor way to designate private vs. private holdings. I guess “the rich man has the upper hand” holds true all too often even in this day and age

  2. The decision reached by this judge seems reasonable and proper. As for the “improper proposals which he neither reviewed nor considered” — the judge handled these well, some of which could have been annotated in multiple comment sections of this publication. I would have thought these to be expected, considering the “notoriety” of this case, but as Truman reportedly suggested: “If it’s too hot, get out of the kitchen”.

  3. Definitely a big win for outdoors enthusiasts. 7 million for crossing through air, maybe the plaintiff should work for the EPA because even the EPA can’t seem to secure those type of numbers when the acid rain is falling on your parked vehicle 3 miles downwind!

  4. Excellent outcome so far on these cases and the transparency by the Courts deserves 👏 applause. We as the public are fortunate that these hunters stood the ground our country has allowed them to be joint ownership of as taxpayers. Also this issue of way point trespassing is another form of harassment by an assumption of a dot that could be put in place from anywhere in the world this APP is functional. Many people do this using satellite to find points of interest especially hunting, knowing where water sources are is a key to game movement as are gas stations to vehicles. These court documents will be worth many more Millions to the public in assets $$$$. It’s a win win win for the public and America.

  5. Finally…a judge that follows the rules!!!!! That almost gives me hope for our judicial system (Especially in Wyoming). I hear over and over (from attorneys outside Wyoming), how crooked Wyo judicial is. Judge Skavdahl for President!!!

  6. Wyoming has been blessed with excellent judges. Those who serve on our federal, state and municipal courts all deserve our respect and thanks.

  7. If I were a WY voter, I would want to know which of my elected officials tried to influence the judge.

  8. The judge made the correct decision. His comments give me great resolve that maybe our country is safe. Our forefathers were so brilliant when all of this was decided it gives me pause.

  9. Judge Skavdahl has always been a smart, capable, hard-working judge with a good sense of decency and justice. He got it right this time, as is usual for him.

  10. the appeal process allows for amicus briefs by the list established by the judge ?
    or are more list allowed in ?