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Get To Know The Wyoming Supreme Court's New Chief Justice

The Supreme Court of Wyoming Building as seen from Capitol Avenue, Cheyenne
DXR via CC BY-SA 4.0
The Supreme Court of Wyoming Building as seen from Capitol Avenue, Cheyenne

The Wyoming Supreme Court has a new chief justice. Kate Fox has been a justice on the court since 2014. She took over for former chief justice Mike Davis this month. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke to Fox about her new role. Fox started by describing what it feels like to be only the second woman to have the position in Wyoming state history.

Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox
Wyoming Supreme Court
Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox

Kate Fox: I'm proud, of course, to be the second woman chief justice in the state. I hope that I'm a role model for other girls and women. On the other hand, I sort of wish that that wasn't even notable. I mean, do they ask Chief Justice Davis, who was just the outgoing one, how does it feel to be the 27th male chief justice in Wyoming? No, that question does not come up. And I would like to have the day arrive when that's not the question for women either.

Catherine Wheeler: Tell me a little bit about your career, where it started to now.

KF: My path was not a straight one. I think there's a lot of pressure on young people to know exactly what they want to be when they grow up and take a straight line there. And for some people that works great, but not for everybody. And I'm a prime example of that. My family has a guest ranch outside of Dubois and I worked there as a wrangler, and camp cook and everything else. And it took me a while to get through undergrad because I was not going steadily for four years. I have a journalism degree as an undergrad. And then one summer I was editor of the Dubois Frontier. And then I was a freelance writer and a ski bum in Steamboat. Then I thought maybe I should do something useful with my life. So I went to law school when I was 30. And kind of stumbled into law school, really, but when I got there, I just felt that I had arrived at the right place for me. I really loved it. After law school, I was a clerk for a federal district court judge, Clarence Brimmer, who was a fabulous mentor for me. And then I practiced kind of a general private practice for 23 years. And then came to the court. I've been here seven and a half years as an associate Justice and now chief.

CW: With your time on the court, what have been some of the most interesting cases or topics that you've been able to kind of dig into and sit with?

KF: It was surprising to me because as a lawyer you get to choose the kinds of cases you want to deal with. As a judge, not so much. It's whatever comes down the pike. And one of the first cases I had had to do with trusts, which was never my strong point as a lawyer. So when I first looked at it, I thought, 'Oh, this is just so daunting. How am I going to get through this? And what could be more dry and boring than trust law?' But as I educated myself, read the cases, read through the record, which is what we do for every case, it was like every other topic that I end up delving into, I end up finding it really interesting. It's always a challenge and so that's what makes it fun. And we always have to remember that every case we have, even if the least intellectually challenging one, is critical to those parties. And so it can never be ho-hum for us.

CW: What do you think the biggest issues are facing the court?

KF: I think there are multiple balls in the air for the judicial branch. But one constant is to maintain and really enhance an independent judiciary as one of the three branches of government. And, as part of that, to continue to do just really excellent work for the people of Wyoming. We don't get the big, juicy constitutional issues that you read about from the United States Supreme Court. Our work is important for sure, but not nearly as loaded on a regular basis as the U.S. Supreme Court is. I really do care about the quality of everything that we do, and that our judges and staff do from getting e-filing downright, to making the right kind of personnel policies. So from those details, but to just really always keep in mind this overarching job that we have that I think it's critical to maintain the rule of law and the respect for an independent judiciary. And I think we just need to keep working on doing the job but also communicating to the people in Wyoming that we're doing the job.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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