Supreme Court hears arguments in fair board lawsuit
January 16, 2020
CHEYENNE – For the first time in more than 80 years, Wyoming Supreme Court justices sat in the Historic Supreme Court Chamber in the state Capitol, hearing oral arguments from two high-profile attorneys representing the Laramie County Board of Commissioners and the Laramie County Fair Board.
Regardless of Thursday’s testimony from Gay Woodhouse and Steve Freudenthal, both of whom have served as the state’s attorney general, the Supreme Court will have the final say in determining whether the commissioners had the authority to dissolve the fair board.
In 2018, the commissioners dissolved the fair board to create an events department that would run the county fair and other recreational opportunities in Laramie County with the newly completed Event Center at SsArcher. In District Court, Judge Thomas Campbell ruled against the fair board, saying the county commissioners did have the right to dissolve it.
The appeal brought the case before the Supreme Court justices.
After hearing the oral arguments, the justices took the case under advisement and will release their decision at a future date. They will issue a declaratory judgement, which defines the legal relationship between parties and their rights in a matter before the court.
In the historic courtroom, Woodhouse, representing the fair board, brought the justices back to 1951, when the Legislature established the process of creating an entity such as the fair board.
Woodhouse said the plain language of the state statute that gives counties the right to create these boards also outlines that such entities have “perpetual existence.” For that reason, the dissolution of the board is a “contravention of the plain language of the statute,” she said.
“The only problem and reason we’re here is because of the abolition,” Woodhouse said.
The fair board is considered a body corporate, which gives it the right to sue or be sued. Woodhouse argued that no process for the board’s dissolution exists. In other statutes relating to corporations, such processes are outlined. Woodhouse said if the Legislature wanted to allow the Board of Commissioners to dissolve the fair board, they could’ve incorporated that into the statute.
On the other hand, Freudenthal said in dissolving the fair board, the Laramie County Board of Commissioners was simply ensuring “the recreational assets of Laramie County are properly managed.”
According to court documents, the commissioners accuse the fair board of: having conflict of interests with construction contracts, creating difficulties in getting the Archer Complex built, resisting competitive bidding, violating construction and financing policies, and creating personnel management issues, major accounting issues, and inadequate insurance coverage levels for events and contracts.
The court can’t rule on theoretical rights, which Freudenthal argued were involved in this case.
In Freudenthal’s argument, he went through the four prongs of the Brimmer test – a tangible interest has been harmed, the judgement of the court can be implemented, a judicial determination would have the same effect of a final judgment in law or the matter is of great public importance, and the proceedings must be adversary and not a mere disputation.
He said only the last prong of the test was valid.
In this case, the mill levy that paid for the Event Center at Archer is also a factor. On the ballot, the voter-approved measure reads, “To collect $9,885,000 and interest earned thereon to the Laramie County Fair Board to be used for the design, construction, equipping and furnishing of a multipurpose facility at the Laramie County Archer Complex.”
Freudenthal said the state statute only requires that the money to go toward the county fair and that the fair board doesn’t have the power to put an issue on the sixth-penny sales tax ballot.
He said the decisions of the Laramie County Board of Commissioners should be political and not judicial.