New Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Nichole Collier Enrobed on Wednesday
Meet Natrona County Circuit Court Judge Nichole Collier, the first woman circuit court judge in the county's history.
It's best if you don't need to.
But if you're charged with a crime in the county you just might meet her or the other two circuit court judges -- Michael Patchen and Brian Christensen -- in the county because that court is often the first one a citizen will face.
This is what happens:
Let's say you're charged with a DUI.
Or maybe you're charged with a misdemeanor or felony possession of meth or pot or other drugs, domestic violence, interference with a police officer, breach of peace, assault, rape, sexual abuse of a minor, petit or felony theft, or any one of a number of other crimes.
Circuit court judges preside over initial appearances during which you hear the charges against you. (Those hearings in Natrona County occur on the fifth floor of the Townsend Justice Center, 115 N. Center St., at 2 p.m. daily.)
If you're charged with misdemeanor -- if convicted, punishable by up to one year in jail -- the circuit court judge will ask how you want to plead: guilty, not guilty or no contest. If guilty or no contest, a district attorney will recommend a sentence and the judge may impose it depending on the defendant's history and severity of the crime. If not guilty, the judge will impose a bond with certain restrictions and ask you whether you want a jury or bench trial and a date will be set later,
If you're charged with a felony -- if convicted, punishable by more than one year in prison -- the circuit court judge will not take a plea. Instead, the judge will impose a bond with restrictions and preliminary hearing will be set to determine whether your case will be bound over for trial.
This happens 160,000 times a year throughout Wyoming, Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Kari Gray said Wednesday.
"The rubber meets the road in circuit court," Gray said as the Supreme Court presided over the robing ceremony for Collier in a courtroom of the Townsend.
The Supreme Court was accompanied by Gov. Mark Gordon and other elected officials, the other circuit court judges, the District Court judges, law enforcement, family and friends.
While Collier has served on the bench for several months, she said later that the ceremony is a formal introduction of her to the community.
Her appointment in May marked the latest accomplishment in her career that started after graduating from George Mason University Law School in Arlington, Virginia.
Sher returned to her home in Wyoming about 20 years ago and went to work for the Public Defenders Office in Natrona County, said District Court Judge Kerri Johnson, who previously was a public defender.
Being a public defender is a tough job because everyone is mad at them, especially the defendants, Johnson said.
When she first came to work, Collier seemed way too nice to be in that job, Johnson said. "These clients are going to eat her alive."
Johnson remembered giving Collier her the documents for first case, an arson case, and told her she had a preliminary hearing about it in an hour.
"She went into that preliminary and gutted it out," Johnson said.
Collier then had children and quit the public defender's job, did some civil work and was a municipal court judge, Johnson said.
After Johnson was appointed to the bench, she hired Collier as a staff attorney to keep her organized and calm, she said.
Earlier this year, former Circuit Court Judge Steven Brown announced his retirement and the Wyoming Judicial Nominating Commission asked for applications for the position, Casper attorney and commission member Anna Reeves Olson said.
The commission, composed of three lawyers and three non-lawyers, received applications and recommended Collier to Gordon, who announced her appointment in May.
Wyoming, Olson added, is only one of 12 states that does not elect judges and they use processes similar to Wyoming's.
Gordon echoed those comments, saying Wyoming offers the opportunity to see the judiciary and the other branches of government as the founding fathers intended: a Legislature that has the power of the purse and the job to make laws, the Executive branch to execute those laws, and an independent judiciary.
He quoted Supreme Court Justice John Roberts who said judges are like umpires. People may not like them, but they're only there to apply the rules.
"'No one ever went to a ball game to see the umpire,'" Gordon said.
Chief Wyoming Justice Kate Fox then read the oath of office to Collier, and Collier's two children then put the robe on their mother.
Collier spoke, and thanked the justices, Gordon, Olson, Johnson, her friends and family.
"To my family here and online, your love and guidance have brought me here to day," she said.