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Hot Cup of Coffee Provides Judicial Lessons for Wyoming

PHOTO: There's a free screening of the documentary, "Hot Coffee," June 20th, in Laramie, along with a discussion about the judicial appointment process in Wyoming. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
PHOTO: There's a free screening of the documentary, "Hot Coffee," June 20th, in Laramie, along with a discussion about the judicial appointment process in Wyoming. Photo credit: Deborah C. Smith
June 17, 2013

LARAMIE, Wyo. - An extra-hot cup of coffee can provide a lesson about how Wyoming selects its judges. That's the motive as the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association offers a free screening of the documentary, "Hot Coffee," on June 20, as part of its annual convention.

The film is about the McDonald's spilled-coffee case. It focuses not just on the burn victim, but on a former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice who became a target because he opposed limits on lawsuit damages.

Laramie attorney Devon O'Connell explained that when judges are elected, they can become entangled with campaign funders. Wyoming justices are not elected, she said.

"The system that Wyoming has for picking its judges is actually very good. It's based on merit. There's very little political digging in there," she explained.

After the film, members of the Wyoming Judicial Nominating Commission and Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite will answer questions about the state's process. Oliver Diaz, the Mississippi Justice featured in the film, will also be on hand.

O'Connell said keeping the judicial arm free of the manipulation of big money is important for citizen justice, and states with non-election systems have seen attacks recently.

"Arizona had a referendum; Missouri faced the same thing. What I'm concerned about is making sure Wyoming citizens are aware of how we appoint judges," O'Connell said, "and how critical it is for us to maintain the manner in which we appoint those judges."

The screening and discussion begin at 5:15 p.m. at the University of Wyoming Conference Center, Laramie.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - WY