Bruce Moats has been accused of never having met a document that shouldn’t be public or a meeting that shouldn’t be open. 

“Largely I plead guilty to that, though not totally,” the grayed, wiry 66-year-old Cheyenne attorney said.

Moats’ mindset and bias toward transparency was born partly from his upbringing, he said. Growing up in a massive family, with 10 kids, decision-making was a collective effort. Functioning as a family wouldn’t have worked, he said, “unless all of us [knew] what’s going on. 

“That just makes such simple sense to me,” Moats said, “I find it astounding I have to argue about it sometimes.”

Moats thought back on his life and career as the chatter of dozens of journalists permeated a fast-filling ballroom at the Little America hotel in Cheyenne. The babbling scribes, photographers and publishers were assembled for the Wyoming Press Association’s final salute to the late Jim Angell, a longtime AP Bureau chief and WPA executive director who advocated alongside Moats for decades for open Wyoming government. 

Now Moats, too, is leaving. After 40 or so WPA conventions, it’s “probably my last,” he said. 

The longtime legal counsel for Wyoming’s fourth estate is forthcoming about why he’s stepping away. His 13-year-old grandaughter, Lily Alicia Gomez Moats, has battled aplastic anemia — a potentially life-threatening condition that has channeled her grandpa’s “fight” away from his profession. 

“It’s just this constant pressure that’s changed me,” Moats said of Lily’s anemia. “I just don’t have the gumption to fight — not in a fisticuff way — but just standing strong and saying, ‘You can’t do this.’ I just don’t have it.”

Journalist-turned-attorney Bruce Moats, who fought for press freedoms and public access to records for decades, talks in his emptied-out Cheyenne office. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

But fight, Moats did. The journalist-turned-attorney is retiring from a four-decades-long battle for the public’s right to know. It’s a safe bet to say he knows the Wyoming Public Records Act better than anybody. He’s repeatedly brought newspapers’ disputes all the way to the Wyoming Supreme Court, where he amassed nine victories to only three losses. And Moats has provided a voice, calling for transparency, for generations of Wyoming journalists who are being shut out or stonewalled

“When I was a reporter, I always sided with openness, but didn’t really have anybody to say it,” Moats said. “You can’t quote yourself. So I became that [voice for others].” 

A job offer from the then-publisher of the Lovell Chronicle, Pat Schmidt, introduced Moats, a native of Montana, to Wyoming. 

Faced with a small editorial staff, Moats pretty much wrote the whole paper. But the duo had to get creative in their effort to chronicle life in Big Horn County while staying true to journalistic ethics and standards, Schmidt said.

“Right off the bat I got crazy and I decided to run for school board,” Schmidt said. “Bruce and I, we worked out a deal where he would cover the school board meetings and I wouldn’t edit his stories.” 

In Schmidt’s estimation, Moats was a stud reporter. He got a tip and broke the news when charges were being filed against John Story, the town doctor, in a case that ultimately revealed the family physician sexually assaulted legions of Lovell women.  

“All of our friends — Bruce’s friends, my friends — were behind the doctor,” Schmidt recalled. “But he reported on it and kept on it and did a great job.” 

Story spent 16 years in prison.

Next stop was Sheridan. It was the late 1980s, and Moats was hired as a reporter but rose to become the editor of the Sheridan Press. Around this time, he’d doubled down on his love of the profession, marrying a fellow journalist, a photographer named Cecilia Ontiveroz. 

“We got married in the Sheridan Press,” Moats said. “Milton Chilcott was the publisher and he agreed to it. He got the champagne for us, too.” 

Cecilia and Bruce Moats enjoys a cocktail in Jackson. (Wyoming Press Association/Courtesy photo)

The pivot away from hands-on journalism came in Moats’ early 30s. Moving to Laramie for a communications job at the University of Wyoming, he had his sights set on law school. All along his interest was in standing up for the First Amendment, an inkling he had early on in life. 

“Free speech is really about free thought,” Moats said. “They want to control your speech because they want to control your thinking. They want to control how much information you have to control your thinking and control your thoughts. And that’s something that’s always rubbed against my brain. I don’t want somebody trying to control me.” 

Moats could have chased down the big bucks. “He graduated at the top of his class at UW,” Schmidt said. 

Instead, he opted for civil rights and media law. It happened organically. 

“Newspaper people just kind of knew me,” Moats said. “So they started calling me.”  

Eventually, for a $2,500 annual retainer, Moats became the official attorney for the Wyoming Press Association. Under the arrangement he’d take any reporter’s phone calls via the “hotline” (really just his office or cell phone) and give advice. Although he’d bill media outlets and WPA for additional work, like letter writing or court appearances, there was an unavoidable opportunity cost to channeling his lawyering toward journalism — a profession rolling in ink, but not so much dough. 

“I’ve given away a lot to the press and the association on non-hotline issues, but it’s a labor of love,” Moats said. “And I’ve been able to make a sufficient living for my family.” 

Until 2015, Moats was also a lobbyist for WPA. It was a role he played for 15 years or so, and it had him guarding against state laws that inhibit the free flow of information. He wasn’t always successful, like when the Wyoming Legislature exempted itself from the Wyoming Public Records Act. 

Moats was following the legislation (nearly two decades later he immediately remembered the bill number) when he caught word of an impromptu, secretive House committee hearing that was being held to advance the measure.

“A Capitol employee who shall remain unnamed tipped me off that they were going to meet in the basement of the Capitol underneath the attorney general’s office,” Moats said. “It was a room that was unfinished, with pipes all over. Jim Angell and I were sitting in that room when they filed in. That’s one of my cherished memories, the looks on their faces.” 

Although it was his job, it “wasn’t easy” to go in a room of 20 people and admonish them for meeting like that. Confrontations of that nature, being the “skunk at the picnic,” didn’t always come painlessly for Moats. He recalled another time, in Big Horn County, where public officials were meeting secretly and he pulled the same move — showing up anyway.

“Then they were going to go into executive session and I said, ‘No, I don’t think you can do that,” Moats recalled. “It wasn’t easy for me to do, I just knew I had to do it.” 

The Big Horn County officials adjourned rather than conduct their business in front of Moats.

Over the decades, Moats scored plenty of victories for the public’s right to know. 

After moving on to become publisher of the Thermopolis Independent Record, Schmidt recalled enlisting the help of his former reporter in a case where the Hot Springs County sheriff and county attorney decided they no longer had to reveal who was being held in jail. 

Longtime Wyoming Press Association executive director Jim Angell, left, and Bruce Moats, the association’s legal counsel. The duo fought for the free flow of information in Wyoming for decades. (Wyoming Press Association/Courtesy)

“We took them on and persevered with a little bit of financial help from the Press Association,” Schmidt said. “It was all Bruce. Boy did he do a job on it.” 

The county attorney got voted out in the next election, he said, and public officials were leery of taking on the Thermopolis Independent Record for years to come. 

In 2019 and 2020, Moats sued the University of Wyoming, and won, on behalf of WyoFile, the Casper Star-Tribune and Cheyenne’s Wyoming Tribune Eagle when trustees refused to share records related to the sudden dismissal of President Laurie Nichols. The case set a precedent by challenging an often-used, overly broad interpretation of personnel-file exemptions to public records laws.  

That was Moats’ role: The go-to source for Wyoming journalists up against a wall. 

WyoFile reporter Angus M. Thuermer Jr., a longtime editor for the Jackson Hole News and, later, News&Guide, guesses he made roughly quarterly calls to Moats when in a bind. 

At the Casper Star Tribune, former editor Dan Neal also leaned into the WPA’s legal counsel time and again. 

“We talked to Bruce a lot, more than you’d think would be necessary,” Neal said. “Bruce was always there to give you the language you needed to make it clear — whether it was to a city official, or a state official — that the law required them to make information available to the public.”

Moats’ other role was as an educator, Neal said. Along with Jim Angell, he gave seminars around the state, teaching public officials about the Wyoming Public Records Act, public meetings laws and the public’s right to access information. 

Nowadays, the whole institution is on the backslide. Wyoming newspapers have trimmed down for years, a dynamic that hastened during the pandemic. Angell died last summer. Moats is retiring. Wyoming journalism is lacking much of the infrastructure it relied on for years to stand up for itself. When bills that may infringe on the press’s First Amendment rights are moving through the statehouse, there’s been no one there to push back. 

“Shared truth” born from “grinding journalism,” like reporters sitting in city council meetings, has suffered, Moats estimates. 

“That’s scary to me,” he said. “Now it’s more the government dispensing the information, putting it up on their website, their Facebook pages. That’s what we have to rely on. Experience tells me that’s not a good thing.” 

Media attorney Bruce Moats, left, receives the Milton Chilcott Award from his former boss, Pat Schmidt, at the Wyoming Press Association’s 2017 convention. The honor recognized Moats’ decades of efforts to protect access to government information. (Wyoming Press Association/Courtesy)

Moats is migrating back to Montana, drawn toward siblings who still live in the vicinity of the family ranch where he will live. His Cheyenne office is emptied and the plan is to sell his Wyoming house. He’ll again be a regular consumer of his hometown paper, the Mineral Independent, and maybe even a contributing reporter. 

“Just for fun,” Moats said. “I enjoyed being a reporter.” 

First, however, there’s some unfinished business in Wyoming. There’s a couple pending cases he’s litigating, both journalism related. One is a challenge of ordinances that Mills and Bar Nunn passed, exempting themselves from having to publish public notices in the newspaper of record. 

The other is a dispute Moats entered into on behalf of the Newcastle News Letter Journal, challenging the “secret ballot” Weston County commissioners used to find a replacement for former Rep. Hans Hunt (R-Newcastle). Through discovery, Moats learned that the county commissioners had been communicating via a group text thread in alleged violation of Wyoming Public Meetings Act regulations. He even found evidence that they were voting via text message. 

“They voted on some payment authorizations,” Moats said. “Most of them were pretty small [amounts], but still …” 

At least one group of Weston County residents, he said, are “upset” at the secret voting. That sentiment has been a common thread Moats has observed throughout his career. 

“People care about open government, they do,” Moats said. “Time and time again, people have said to me, ‘We’re happy for what you’re doing. Keep doing it. It’s important.’”

WyoProfiles examine the remarkable, notable and fascinating lives of state residents — both living and gone. If you have an idea for an individual you would like us to profile, email

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. SAD, sad loss for Whyoming. My Home State is spiraling downward to a right-wing, fascist, QNut enclave. And fewer and fewer young warriors to stand for the rights of We, the People. ALL the people, even those of us who are struggling to coax the Neanderthals into the current century. THANK YOU Bruce Moats…..for all you have done. You will be desperately missed.

  2. I wish I’d had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Moats. Congratulations on a working life exceedingly well lived.

  3. For years I ran for office as Democrat knowing I had no chance of winning just to give people a choice. Motes’ story seems hauntingly similar to mine. In a democracy, newspapers are essential to print the truth. Congrats go out to Mote. I too am leaving Wyoming for a more friendly and warmer climate. It is with great sorrow that I am headed to Colorado. I love Wyoming. Years ago I ran for office to diversify the economy and keep my children in Wyoming because there were no jobs. All five of my children lived in Wyoming. There were no jobs. Now three of my five kids and six of my seven grandkids live in Colorado where they found decent-paying jobs. Like Mote I am tired of fighting.

  4. A vigorous press is essential for all sorts of reasons. Issues need to be covered accurately and factually. If the press is not there, rumours abound. Here in my hometown, the void is allowing ignorance and gossip to determine opinion.

  5. When I think of Bruce T. Moats, the term “top-drawer” comes to mind. That’s a phrase I heard way back in journalism school to describe the best-of-the-best. That’s Bruce. During the 1980s, he had a staff of strong and challenging personalities on his news team during his tenure as managing editor of The Sheridan Press, and I was one of them! Through his leadership, we were able to respectfully share our differences. There were some lively meetings for sure. But then we’d all go out for margaritas after work. Bruce always stood up for integrity in our news coverage and writing, even if it meant going toe-to-toe with a publisher or public official. In one of his last years at The Press, the newspaper received the Deming Cup for General Excellence, which is awarded annually to the best daily newspaper in Wyoming. I’ll always remember Bruce as among the finest supervisors I’ve had in the more than four decades of my career—a great leader, coach, and mentor. And I’ll always remember that wonderful wedding ceremony at The Press. So many fond memories. All good wishes to Bruce and Cec during this new stage in their lives. Happy trails!

  6. truly à great man Wyoming will very much miss his strong conviction to truth seeking and the 1st amendment

  7. I recall being on the state agency side of open records disputes with Jim Angell and Bruce Moats. Without exception, they were honest, tough and fair. And they were civil and professional about it. These days the lack of transparency in politics and government are probably more challenging than they’ve ever been. They’ll be missed.

  8. Bruce has fought the good fight for all of us and his contributions to Wyoming Open Meetings Law are significant. There remains much to be done to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public.

  9. Bruce Moats was one that disappearing breed you could disagree with yet still respect and be friends with. Wyoming will miss him.

  10. I only knew of Bruce Moats from references in news articles. Now I know why WY journalists think so highly of him! His work sets an example of bringing our best selves forward in service to our communities. I appreciate WyoProfiles covering some terrific people in WY.

  11. Thank you, Bruce Moats, for serving Wyoming and shining a light on the importance of free speech and transparency. You will be greatly missed.

  12. Bruce Moats has done everything he can to keep the public informed for many years and we are grateful. In this age of social media and declining local newspapers, who will pick up the mantle for us? Hopefully another will step up. Best of everything to Bruce and family as they start their next chapter.

  13. Congratulations Mr. Moats for a career working in support of others.

    I was not surprised to hear that you were top of your class.

    It has been a pleasure to know you.

    Enjoy the next chapters of your life.

  14. Thank you Bruce Moats! You helped get Sheridan on a better path in the 1980s, and all of Wyoming since then. Happy trails-

  15. The loss to Wyoming journalism in recent months from the passing of Jim Angell and retirement of Bruce Moats should concern everyone who cares about government openness and the public’s right to know. Those are four big shoes to fill.
    All the same, congrats to Bruce and thank you.

  16. All the best in your retirement Bruce. As a veteran of 14 years in the Legislature I can say without hesitation that it was always a pleasure working with you. Not that we always agreed, but when we didn’t, you were a gentleman. The honor and integrity you showed throughout your career was exemplary. The legislative process and Wyoming journalism will miss your input. Thanks for all you have contributed.

  17. I am sorry to see Bruce Moats hang up his hat. Who will replace him? On multiple occasions he turned things around. His win over the UW trustees when they wanted to keep the details of President Nichols’ dismissal was an important corrective. Light is a disinfectant. For such a thinly populated state, I find the recurrent impulse to keep the public’s business a secret distinctly odd.

  18. Bruce has done so much to protect Wyoming’s citizens’ access to what’s going on with local and state government. We all owe him a huge “thanks” for his efforts. He’s done a lot to keep the lights on in the chambers of government, and this always does so much to prevent misuse of power.

  19. Congratulations Bruce on your well deserved retirement. You were and still are a great attorney and a fine human being. You will be missed by those in the journalism profession. Best wishes to your granddaughter and enjoy your time on the ranch.

  20. Bruce was a tremendous asset to broadcast journalists as well. He was always willing to help my organization out with sticky issues and we used him on the air on a wide variety of matters. He even let Wyoming Public Radio use his vehicle and driveway for a homecoming float. (I believe he drove.) My best to both Bruce and Cess. You will be missed!

  21. Mike Koshmrl, congrats on writing a fine, detailed story about a leading Wyoming journalist and attorney.
    Bruce Moats has made Wyoming a better state for its citizens.