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AG will ask high court to reconsider 'Hill Bill' ruling

Jan 31, 2014 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

Wyoming's Attorney General has decided to request a rehearing from the Wyoming Supreme Court on its recent ruling that a law redefining the duties of the state superintendent of public instruction is unconstitutional.

Senate File 104 was signed into law last year, transferring most of the superintendent's duties to a new director of education appointed by Gov. Matt Mead.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill served Mead with a lawsuit the day the bill was signed.

A lower-court judge opted not to hear the case, passing it on immediately to the Supreme Court.

"After reviewing the opinion, the concurrence, and the dissent, I believe additional consideration is merited," Attorney General Peter K. Michael said in a press release Thursday.

The petition for rehearing must be filed within 15 days of the decision, which was made Tuesday. Michael said the party seeking the rehearing submits its arguments along with the petition.

If the request is granted, the court will decide whether to stay the effect of its own decision until the rehearing is complete. If the request is denied, the court will send its original decision to Laramie County District Court for further proceedings.

John Masters, Hill's deputy superintendent of public instruction, said the request for rehearing is "unusual." Staff at the Wyoming Supreme Court said justices have agreed to rehear cases in the past, but not very often.

The court won't comment on the makeup of the panel of judges who would rehear the case if Michael's request is granted. Masters thinks the same justices would be at the bench, including retired Justice Michael Golden, who stepped in after Justice William U. Hill, a Riverton High School graduate, removed himself from the case.

William Hill's wife had been employed at the Wyoming Department of Education but moved to the governor's office soon after Cindy Hill was elected. The justice and the superintendent are not related.

Sam Shumway, a member of Cindy Hill's senior leadership team, said the rules of procedure don't specify the makeup of the panel of judges that rehears a case.

"I expect it would be the same panel," he said. "It's the same matter, the same issues and the same folks that decided the original certified questions. I'd be surprised if it wasn't."

Regardless, he wondered whether Justice Kate Fox, who was sworn in this month to replace Justice Barton Voigt who retired effective Jan. 3, would sit on the panel.

Fox did not hear the Hill lawsuit and did not vote on it.

"She was very recently appointed by Gov. Mead, who is one of the litigants in this case," Shumway said. "She may recuse herself, if that's the case."

Masters said the court would address any ambiguity "in due time."

Shumway served as Cindy Hill's counsel before SF104 was passed. The legislation eliminated his legal position, but he has stayed on as a policy analyst for the superintendent.

"With SF104 being found unconstitutional, I'm kind of back in that role as counsel," he said, adding that his title will remain uncertain until the district court rules on the case. "I'm in a state of limbo, I guess."

Hill said she still plans to run for governor this year. She announced her bid for the seat last January after SF104 was passed and made her formal, public announcement earlier this month.

Hill has been in meetings this month with a legislative committee that was formed to determine whether she should be impeached from the superintendent's position. The committee announced last week that it would postpone further action until after the 2014 legislative session, which begins Feb. 10.

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Legislature, Wyoming