State briefs

Crime victim’s services has seen increase in payments

CHEYENNE (WNE) -– The division of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office that pays for medical bills, counseling, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages and other costs related to injuries for victims of crime has seen an influx in the amount and number of payments in recent years.

Between Fiscal Years 2014 and 2016, the office has seen a nearly 36 percent increase in the amount of money paid to victims through the office statewide – from $910,017.65 to more than $1.41 million, according to numbers provided to and analyzed by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

Of those, total payouts in sexual assault cases have increased by nearly 70 percent and child abuse cases have increased by nearly 50 percent.

Payouts for DUI and other vehicle-related crimes have decreased significantly, while robbery, assault and homicide cases have all jumped by at least 30 percent.

It’s difficult to pin down a cause without deeper analysis, said Cara Chambers, the director of victim’s services for the attorney general’s office.

But some contributes could include increased reporting for certain crimes, fewer people with medical insurance, economic downturns, influxes in certain types of crimes and more victims seeking compensation for mental health treatment, she said.

Between FY 2014 (Oct. 1, 2014 to Sept. 30, 2015) and FY 2016 (Oct. 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2017), the amount of money paid out for mental health treatment has increased by more than 22 percent.

Chambers said that was good news.

“I think that’s a positive trend that we’re realizing that it’s not just dealing with what’s presented in the emergency room, but it’s that longer-term recovery that these victims of these crimes will be dealing with the impact for years to come,” she said.

Campbell County, Alpha reach deal on tax bill

GILLETTE (WNE) — Nearly two years after emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Alpha Natural Resources has settled its property tax debt with Campbell County.

Alpha has agreed to pay the county $8.67 million to cover the final installment of tax owed for 2015 and all but about $4 million of tax still owed for 2016, according to a settlement filed late last month in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Virginia.

While it still leaves the county $4 million short of what it should have collected from the coal mining company, the settlement is “better than it could’ve been, for sure,” said County Treasurer Rachael Knust.

Alpha owned and operated the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines in Campbell County until it emerged from bankruptcy in April 2016.

Like its other creditors, Campbell County had to get in line and fight for its unpaid taxes, something many small, rural counties don’t have the means to do when companies go belly up and leave outstanding tax bills, Knust said.

“Campbell County is probably one of the few in the state that can do a case like this,” she said, adding that Deputy County Attorney Carol Seeger deserves a lot of credit for her work to get the settlement.

The real difference, Seeger said, was the county’s decision to hire an outside law firm specializing in bankruptcy.

“I think that helped tremendously,” she said. “I think it’s probably true that a lot of counties don’t have the resources and manpower to track these things. Campbell County is in the unique spot where we’re one of the few counties that can have this kind of (financial) exposure.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Burke to retire

CHEYENNE (WNE) — Wyoming’s Supreme Court is looking for a new leader.

Chief Justice E. James Burke is set to step down October 8th, the court announced earlier this month.

Burke was named to the court by Gov. Dave Freudenthal in 2004 and appointed chief justice by his peers in 2014.

He succeeded Wyoming’s first female chief justice, Marilyn Kite, when she stepped down from the court that year. Kite was also the court’s first female justice.

Burke has been a Wyoming resident for more than 40 years. After his 1971 graduation from St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia, Burke served in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne.

The chief justice received his law degree in 1977 from the University of Wyoming. He practiced law for Burke, Woodard and O’Donnell in Cheyenne before being named Laramie County District Court judge in 2001.

Expressions of interest for the open position are due to the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission by July 6. Potential candidates must be at least thirty years old, Wyoming residents for at least three years and have nine or more years of legal experience.

Such expressions may be submitted through the court’s website. The nominating commission will submit three finalists to Gov. Matt Mead, who will then choose the court’s new justice from the list.

When the governor fills Burke’s spot on the bench, the state’s highest court will be composed entirely of judges appointed by Mead: Justice Michael Davis, who joined the court in 2012; Keith Kautz, who was sworn in in 2015; Kate Fox, who joined in 2014; and Lynne Boomgaarden, who was sworn in this year, all were appointed to the court by Mead.