Enforcement timeline for weapons ban in local court unclear
Date posted: March 28, 2013
SHERIDAN — Following a legislative session in which lawmakers gave Wyoming judges the right to ban deadly weapons from their courtrooms, Sheridan’s Circuit Court Judge Shelley Cundiff of the Fourth Judicial District became one of the first in the state to pass down such an order.
While concealed carry had previously been banned from Wyoming courtrooms, the new law allows judges to ban plainly visible weapons starting July 1.
But while lawyers and lawmakers agree that bans will soon be enforceable per state statute, question marks remain regarding the precise legality of the handful of bans that have already been issued.
In the case of the proposed Sheridan ban, it’s unclear whether Cundiff justified her action on the basis of the recent law or her inherent authority as a judge to uphold the integrity of her courtroom.
That determination will establish when the ban becomes enforceable and under what section of state statute a violator may be punished.
“Judge Cundiff’s (ban) doesn’t purport to be under the (new section of) statute,” Sheridan County Attorney Matt Redle wrote in an email to The Sheridan Press. “By the same token, it doesn’t say that it isn’t. Right now it is a draft.”
Cundiff’s ban affects firearms, explosive, incendiary materials and any other implement capable of
being used as a deadly weapon when it otherwise has no reasonable use related to the conduct of government business.
The order continues to allow sworn peace officers to continue carrying weapons in addition to creating an exception for pocket knives less than 6 inches in length.
The controversy surrounding a judge’s right to ban weapons stems from a 2012 order from the district court judge of Albany County. Following an incident in which an unknown person fired a bullet through a wall of a Riverton Courtroom, Judge Jeffrey Donnell issued a ban on all deadly weapons — with the exception of those carried by law enforcement officers — in any section of the Albany County Courthouse.
In a memo to the county commissioners, Donnell said the volatile nature of courthouse proceedings makes the presence of weapons exceptionally dangerous.
Donnell went on to write that during his 16 years on the bench, he had witnessed many incidents of violent courthouse outbursts that could have easily turned deadly.
“Had any of those incidents involved weapons, and there is no reason they could not have, it is highly likely that someone would have been killed or seriously injured,” he wrote.
Anticipating blowback from the county commissioners, Donnell wrote that they were welcome to take up the issue with the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“Frankly, that would be fine with me as that would settle this issue once and for all, not only here but statewide,” he wrote. “Given the Supreme Court’s prior pronouncements on the doctrine of inherent authority, I have little doubt how the matter will be resolved.”
In Sheridan, Redle said Cundiff could presumably make an argument similar to Donnell’s, thereby making her ban effective immediately.
Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, said the recently passed law aims to give judges more authority to ensure the safety of individuals in their courtrooms. Brown was the primary sponsor of the legislation and said the measure was widely supported among lawmakers.
“This is really scary stuff, and it’s getting worse because people don’t have respect for the law — I don’t think — that they used to,” he said.
Attempts to reach Cundiff for comment on the ban were unsuccessful.