SHERIDAN — From one phone call to another, John Baggett traveled around the world teaching the children of tomorrow and addressing problems in international and inner-city schools. For the past 10 years, Baggett has observed problems being resolved through the 4th Judicial District Court as a bailiff in Sheridan County. His experience keeping students in line throughout his life helped prepare him for his role tending to the jury for a trial.
Baggett started his career as an educator in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. After a year teaching there, the six months of snow on the ground per year prompted him to move to a warmer climate.
He started as a teacher and, after earning a master’s degree, worked in the district office with an African American man to help integrate schools in inner-city Miami.
“We’d go to schools that had problems, and in inner-city Miami, we had lots of problems,” Baggett said.
After around five years, he and his family moved closer to his then in-laws in Wyoming for a quality of life Baggett had never experienced.
He taught in Wheatland before landing in Big Horn working as a school principal. During the 11 years serving there, he helped the school transition into a new classification and a four-day school week.
The winds of change blew through Wyoming for Baggett when a friend of his suggested international schools as an option. He and his wife at the time eventually packed up and moved to Mexico City, where he served in administration for three years and helped establish a middle school.
“It was just an incredible experience,” Baggett said. “We loved Mexico and we loved the Mexican people.”
Kuwait was the next stop for Baggett, where he stayed again for three years and again helped establish a middle school.
“The neat thing about Kuwait was they had Christmas, Easter and Ramadan, and they had two weeks of peace,” Baggett said, mentioning his family’s use of the breaks to go on African safaris and trips throughout the Middle East.
But, Baggett needed a break. He initially opted to take a year off in the United States, but Meeteetse’s superintendent called upon the problem-solver to work as a principal. It took Baggett four years before a school year arose where he did not suspend a single student.
Another phone call to Baggett, this time from a superintendent in Trinidad and Tobago, led him this time to the Caribbean for his final bit of service in education. While there, Baggett helped switch curriculum from British teachings to American-based and mourned the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from afar.
After working in Trinidad and Tobago, Baggett bought a home near Big Horn and settled in for a nice retirement, until the next phone call arrived for his next adventure.
“Nickie Arney got to be the clerk and asked me to be the bailiff,” Baggett said. “I was like, ‘What does a bailiff do?’ I didn’t have any idea.”
He eventually agreed to the new position, sitting back and watching the cases of Sheridan County work their way through the trial process.
“He’s dependable, reliable and I trust him to do the job he’s supposed to do, “ Arney said of her friend and coworker. “I think he’s always enjoyed it. You have to have somebody that’s definitely trustworthy.”
Baggett makes sure jury members do not have cellphones, talk to each other or others outside of the courthouse about the case and he ensures no communication about the case to those in the hallway. In addition to keeping jurors in line, he also provides them with doughnuts in the morning, answers any questions they have about the process and engages the ones feeling less excited about being chosen as a jury member.
“I try to make people feel comfortable so during the course of the time we’re in here, pick out people that I see them hiding or whatever, I go over and talk to them and try to get them involved,” Baggett said.
During the trial, Baggett sketches the faces seen on the witness stand, in the jury seats and at the podium. His pen and ink drawings, which range from local historical buildings to animals, bars and barns of Wyoming, also appear on birthday cards for his 21 grandchildren each year and in a local bookstore in Sheridan for sale.
His life experiences help keep the jury occupied during down time inevitable in trials.
“I mention some things to people in here (about my life) and it’s like I’m from another planet,” Baggett said. “People don’t, and I realize that now, people haven’t done things like I’ve done. And I didn’t plan them, I did them because they came up and I went.”
While true retirement might be in sight for Baggett following the most recent trial, he continues to enjoy meeting the many personalities of Sheridan.
“You don’t get to interact with all these people in your own life; they come from all walks of life,” Baggett said. “And I talk and I’m going to find out about them.”
NOTE: The print version of this article has been edited online to reflect the correct spelling of John Baggett’s name.