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High court won't give new hearing to Hill case

Mar 3, 2014 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

The Wyoming Supreme Court will not reconsider its decision striking down a law that stripped the superintendent of public instruction of most responsibilities.

The court voted 3-2 on Friday to deny a petition by Attorney General Peter Michael to rehear the case. It said a lower court could handle further proceedings on the issue.

Last month, the Supreme Court decided that the 2013 law that removed the superintendent, who is elected statewide, as head of the Department of Education was unconstitutional.

Superintendent Cindy Hill welcomed Friday's decision and said she was ready to resume her full duties.

"Once again the Supreme Court has affirmed that the will of the people, as expressed through voting, trumps the intent of a few legislators," Hill said. "I am ready to return to work and refocus my attention back on the children and their education."

Gov. Matt Mead said in a statement that he looked forward to a district court's guidance on the issue. Michael declined comment.

Legislators cited concerns about Hill's administration in passing a bill last year removing her from the department.

The bill was debated at a quick pace and was the first legislation passed last year by state lawmakers.

Mead quickly signed the legislation into law and appointed a director for the education department. Hill retained her title, and the superintendent remains one of five statewide elected officials.

Hill challenged her ouster, which happened in the middle of her four-year term. The bill, SF104, has drawn sharp criticism statewide.

While the Supreme Court ruled the law was unconstitutional, it did acknowledge that lawmakers have the power to alter the superintendent's duties.

But lawmakers and Mead said the decision did not give any guidance on what superintendent duties can or can't be changed by the Legislature without violating the state constitution.

Michael's petition asked the court for guidance on that matter. The three justices in the majority on Friday said there was no need.

"We have no doubt that the district court is capable of dealing with all further issues," Justice E. James Burke wrote for the majority, which included Justices Michael K. Davis and Barton Voigt.

They also noted that a rehearing would "have the practical effect of 'running out the clock'" on Hill's term, which ends at the end of the year. Hill has announced she is running for governor, and her supporters claim the state's tactics are intended to keep the issue alive well into the primary election campaign in order to damage Hill's chances.

Chief Justice Marilyn Kite and retired Justice Michael Golden dissented, saying the court had an obligation to tell lawmakers how to proceed.

The Legislature is contemplating a special session to decide what to do next about the education department.

The current budget session is scheduled to end next week.

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