NEWS BRIEFS for Monday, April 27, 2020

Casper Republican Donna Rice announces bid for U.S. Senate seat

CHEYENNE (WNE) – Fourth-generation Wyomingite and small business owner Donna Rice announced her campaign Friday for the GOP nomination in the Wyoming race for United States Senate.

“America was founded on the ideas of liberty and personal responsibility,” Rice said in a statement. “These are two of the key principles that make our country great. I believe Wyoming is filled with that same spirit of hard work, independence, less government and strong families. I want to make sure America, and Wyoming, never lose these values, and that is why I have decided to run for the Republican nomination to the United States Senate.”

Rice is an attorney and small business owner who lives in Casper. She attended Casper College, University of Wyoming, and University of Denver, College of Law.

“I am a Christian, who is pro-life, pro-gun and pro-Trump,” Rice said. “I supported the president from day one and will have his back in Washington. We must fight back against the ‘Socialist Squad’ who is seeking to change America as we know it – and not for the better. Along with life and the Second Amendment, religious liberty, property rights, farming and ranching, border security and national security will all be top priorities of mine when I go to Washington and represent the great people of Wyoming.”


Wyoming public defender’s staffing shortages resolved

CASPER (WNE) — Staffing shortages that led the Wyoming public defender last summer to decline misdemeanor cases in Campbell County have been resolved, the attorney told the Star-Tribune earlier this month. 

Diane Lozano, who runs the statewide agency that defends people accused of crimes who cannot afford private lawyers, said by phone that she had made job offers to fill open positions in Campbell and Laramie counties. 

She said during the April 8 interview that she had not yet made an offer to fill an open position in Natrona County, but that she anticipated doing so soon. The agency’s capacity to take cases became an issue last year, when Lozano told judges in Campbell County Circuit Court that her office there did not have enough lawyers to handle new cases. 

The same day, Judge Paul Phillips found her in contempt and ordered she pay the court 

$1,500 per day until she took the cases and all others referred her by the court. 

By the end of May, Lozano had appealed the judge’s ruling to the state appellate court. In Natrona County, meanwhile, the public defender’s office — citing workloads that Lozano said precluded lawyers’ ability to provide effective representation as required by the U.S. Constitution — also stopped taking appointments to misdemeanor cases and judges in both counties began appointing private attorneys to those cases. 

The staffing crunch eventually eased, and public defenders began again taking the cases, though private lawyers continued to represent the people they had been assigned during the staffing shortage. 

Then, in early April, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in Lozano’s favor, determining that Lozano acted appropriately when she triggered the contempt order — citing rules of professional conduct that indicated her lawyers were well-overworked — by declining to represent two people in Campbell County misdemeanor cases. 


More people accused Barnum of taking money without finishing the job

GILLETTE (WNE) — A man sentenced to nine to 13 years in prison for defrauding the Boy Scouts and a 76-year-old woman out of $150,000 has new charges against him for similar actions — this time in Crook County.

Jason Ray Barnum, 42, has been charged with two counts of obtaining goods by false pretenses, one a felony for a $3,214 fraud and one a misdemeanor for taking $500 from a woman, according to court documents.

A Moorcroft Police officer noted that the cases “sound eerily similar” to those in Campbell County that came after Barnum pleaded guilty in November to three counts of theft and one count of obtaining goods by false pretenses.

Since his sentencing for defrauding the woman and Boy Scouts, Barnum has been charged with two felony counts and three misdemeanor counts of obtaining goods by false pretenses in Campbell County. Those additional five counts of fraud total $6,350. He also was accused of another case in Wright for $1,100. Another is pending in Weston County, according to a court clerk.

In all of them, he allegedly signed contracts to do construction jobs and was paid upfront for half the cost of projects. In each of the cases, he failed to show up to do the work, citing illnesses in several instances.

In the Crook County cases, Barnum allegedly agreed to repair a house and provided a quote of $6,178 in October. On Nov. 12, the homeowner signed a contract and paid him $3,214 because he required a 50% down payment, according to an affidavit of probable cause.


BLM reminds public to drive only on existing roads

ROCK SPRINGS (WNE) — The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) High Desert District reminds people planning to drive on public lands this spring, that it is illegal to travel off existing roads in a motorized vehicle.

A citation for driving a motorized vehicle off existing roads or in a closed area can result in fines. Off-road driving can cause significant damage anytime, but Spring soils are especially susceptible, according to a BLM press release. The resulting damage can cause erosion and serious impacts to important wildlife habitat. Another factor to consider is personal safety such as not getting stranded on muddy or washed-out roads.

The reminder is in line with the BLM’s priority of conservation stewardship, according to the department. There are hundreds of miles of roads to use when exploring public land in Wyoming.

Also each spring, visitors from throughout the region search for shed antlers on BLM-administered land in southern and western Wyoming. It is crucial that those visitors using motorized vehicles remain on existing roads. BLM rangers will patrol popular shed hunting areas to ensure compliance with travel management rules and resource regulations.

Anyone driving cross country off existing roads can be reported by contacting the local BLM Field Office. A vehicle description, license plate number, time and location will help with travel regulations enforcement. 

The location of road damage or impassable roads may be reported to the High Desert District Engineer Joe Cantrell at 307-352-0256.


Riverton man sentenced to 5-7 years in child porn case

RIVERTON (WNE) —A 26-year-old Riverton man in what one judge deemed the “beginning phases” of child pornography use was sentenced to between five and seven years in prison Wednesday morning. 

Arrested in November, Michael Woodward was charged with sexual exploitation of children when found in possession of 14 images of young girls in provocative poses and clothing. 

The girls, approximately 7 and 9 years old, were subjects of a photo series organized as a progression of sexual provocation, which ended pornographically.

“Their potential and purity didn’t mean anything to the people who created these images,” said Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun during the sentencing hearing in Fremont County District Court. “And it was done so that people like Mr. Woodward could view it, and in Mr. Woodward’s case, forward it on to another.” 

A complete forensic examination of Woodward’s electronic devices after a search warrant revealed no more than the 14 images – and his having shared them on the internet. 

“He’s just not what we typically see with someone who possesses this content,” Public Defender James Whiting said of Woodward. “This was a blip, and this is not who he is; this is not his character.” 

Whiting recommended probation with five to six years’ imprisonment suspended. Statute mandates a minimum of five years in prison for sexual exploitation of children, but judges have the discretion to suspend those five years – or more – in favor of probation. 

When he agreed to plead guilty, Woodward was given a 10-year cap on his potential sentence in lieu of the statutory 12. LeBrun recommended any sentence of between five and 10 years – at the court’s discretion.


Bighorn forest season will not be ‘business as usual’

SHERIDAN (WNE) — With regional closure orders of developed recreation sites and fire restrictions in place for national forests within the Rocky Mountain Region through the end of May, local officials emphasized that recreation in the Bighorn National Forest this summer will not look like business as usual.

“This region-wide closure order is not tied to what normally triggers us into campfire closures,” said Erin Phelps, acting forest supervisor for the Bighorn National Forest. “It is more tied to trying to take a stressor off the system in terms of if we can mitigate or minimize even one campfire that’s out there, that’s one less potential exposure for our firefighting resources in particular.”

Phelps, speaking in a telephone conference with other government officials last week, acknowledged some of the awkwardness of the order applying across the region, as areas in Colorado have higher fire dangers currently than places like the Bighorn Mountains, which still have significant snow. But, she said, part of the purpose of the order was to put area residents and those recreating on notice that this season would not be like years past.

“… With the limited amount of fire fighting resources we have, and knowing that this year the emphasis — at least currently — is that the local fire fighters are the fire fighters that we have, and we’re not looking at having a lot of national resources moving across the nation, we need to protect those resources as much as possible,” Phelps said.


GOP convention to be held in two parts

SHERIDAN (WNE) — Holly Jennings, acting chair of the Sheridan County Republican Party, said the Wyoming Republican Party 2020 Convention is scheduled to be held in two sessions — a virtual meeting May 9 and an in-person convention at the end of June.

Looking forward to a virtual meeting with hundreds of participants, the Sheridan County Republican Convention April 4 presented a good opportunity for practice with large-scale videoconferencing.

Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said virtual platforms are efficient and save money and time, compared to the time it takes to travel to Cheyenne. Still, ensuring meaningful virtual meetings necessitates organizational guidelines — like someone dedicated to monitoring who is raising their hand asking to speak.

“It’s hard to beat face to face but you can still get a lot done in a virtual meeting,” Kinskey said.

A critical outcome of the county convention was updating party bylaws, which hadn’t been amended since 2012, Kinskey said.

Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, said the virtual meeting had a “good showing and a lot of great conversations” despite some hiccups for participants who had not participated in a large virtual conference before.

Updated bylaws include guidelines for future virtual meetings. Meetings and conventions may be conducted electronically during a declared federal or state emergency, in a setting where all participants can hear each other and speak simultaneously.

Approved resolutions, which will be debated at the state convention, will soon be posted to the Wyoming GOP website, Holly Jennings said.


Jackson police ask antler hunters to stay home

JACKSON (WNE) — Teton County law enforcement is running a campaign to convince antler hunters to stay home, though they still expect an influx beginning Tuesday.

Jackson Chief of Police Todd Smith said his office has been reaching out to hundreds of antler hunters via social media and advertising to ask them not to come this year to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

“If you’re out there and you’re listening and you’re planning on attending, we’re asking you, ‘Please sit this one out,’” Smith said Friday during the live community COVID-19 update, broadcast from Town Hall.

Despite what he described as a nationwide campaign to spread the message, “the police department is still expecting that people are going to show up,” he said.

Smith recommended that Teton County residents stock up on groceries, gasoline and other supplies ahead of time, and make an extra effort to stay at home during the peak days of the antler hunt.