SHERIDAN — Sheridan’s three presiding judges in circuit and district courts received feedback ratings through the Wyoming Judicial Advisory Poll published this month. Fourth Judicial District Court Judge John Fenn received mostly above average ratings, while Sheridan County Circuit Court Judge Shelley Cundiff and part-time 4th Judicial District Court Judge William Edelman did not fare as well in the poll.
Judicial evaluation polls are used by the Wyoming State Bar to provide feedback to officials about their performance on the bench and to help the public make more informed judgments in judicial elections.
Attorneys also have the opportunity to provide written feedback that are transferred directly to the judges.
Cundiff will seek retainment in the upcoming November general election in both Sheridan and Johnson counties, where she presides. Edelman and Fenn will appear on the ballot in 2021.
The Wyoming State Bar has completed a poll every election year since 1976 to improve the performance of individual judges and the judiciary as a whole.
The poll is conducted as a web-based survey and sent to members of the Wyoming State Bar.
Out of 26 respondents, 61.5 percent supported Cundiff’s retention for this year’s election; only Craig L. Jones from Sweetwater County received less support at 41.4 percent.
“I’ve seen these reports before and I’ve also noticed Judge Cundiff didn’t do real well,” 4th Judicial District Court Clerk Nickie Arney said. “That just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Clerks of circuit court in Sheridan County were out of the office and unavailable to respond to Cundiff’s ratings by press time. Cundiff splits time between Sheridan and Johnson counties, and the Johnson County Circuit Court clerk Sylvia Mannering said she was unaware of the poll results and had no opinion on Cundiff’s 2018 results.
Cundiff scored below the average circuit court scores in each of the 11 categories, receiving well below the statewide average in knowledge of the law, how well decisions are reasoned and clearly expressed and application of rules of evidence and procedures.
Wyoming State Bar president and Sheridan attorney Weston Graham has appeared before all three Sheridan County judges and explained that comparing individual judges ratings with state averages is unfair, as each judge is evaluated by different attorneys.
“It’s not a competition between the judges (throughout the state),” Graham said.
Graham said Sheridan County has great judges and he believes all three judges do a great job. While it may be consumer’s inclination to compare, Graham said, there are different standards for each judge. The respondents totaled about 45 percent of the total attorneys associated with the Wyoming State Bar.
Arney posed that opinions differ yearly, but a lot of opinions could be formed through case difficulty or type.
“Every criminal case you’re going to have somebody that doesn’t like your ruling,” Arney said.
Arney works with judges Fenn and Edelman. She said Edelman handles about a quarter of the workload Fenn sees, but he also presides in Johnson County and fills in several other locations throughout the state. The newer judge received below average markings in all but courteousness and politeness. Edelman scored the worst in industriousness and promptness in performing judicial duties; how well decisions are reasoned and how clearly they are expressed; and knowledge of the law.
“It’s really hard when you’re not settled in one area to get some rapport with a certain group of attorneys, the ones that are going to be rating you,” Arney said.
Fenn received above average scores in every category. He scored highest above the state average in industriousness and promptness of performing judicial duties; how well decisions are reasoned and clearly expressed; and application of rules of evidence and procedures.
Arney, who works primarily with Fenn and Edelman, said her office feels blessed to have both judges to work with, and never has trouble asking questions or getting a hold of either judge. However, the poll itself is filled out by attorneys who would be more focused on courtroom tasks than behind-the-scenes office work. Both entities affect the public and the flow of daily business, whether in the courtroom or in the clerks’ offices.