First Annual Spence Law Firm Historical Trial

Spence Hsitorical Trials

The University of Wyoming College of Law will be holding the first annual Spence Law Firm Historical Trial Production on Wednesday, October 29th, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. in the College of Law Large Moot Court Room.

The College of Law, with collaboration and support from the Spence Law Firm created the Historical Trials program as a fun and interesting way to learn about the law and important events in Wyoming or U.S. history. A mock trial is created from the facts from a chronicled event, where parties involved never actually went to trial or were never brought to justice.

The premise for this year’s historical trial will be the Johnson County Cattle War.

UW Law Professor Steve Easton and a team of six UW law students researched the event to create a trial file that is as close as possible to the historical record.

“When selecting a potential case we are looking for two major things” says Easton. “We are looking for an interesting event where a valid argument can be made on each side of the case, and an event that is well documented with a substantial amount evidence so the trial file is accurate.”

Easton and his research team of 1L students Evynne Fair (Arvada, Colo.), Sami Lejeune (Cheyenne, Wyo.), David Volk (Greeley, Colo.), Greyson Buckingham (Kelly, Wyo.), Dusty Honaker (Rock Springs, Wyo.) and Jeannie Tiemann of Laramie used historically documented letters, diaries and confessions from actual participants in the cattle wars (many of whom will be portrayed in the mock trial) to create the trial file. Additionally, the students relied heavily on the concise overview of the Wyoming Cattle War as described in Wyoming Range War by John W. Davis, as well as expertise provided by University of Wyoming History Professor Phil Roberts.

The result of their efforts is State v. Barber, the “Johnson County Cattle War” Case. The defendant in the trial will be Amos Walker Barber, the acting Governor of the State of Wyoming from November 24, 1890 through January 02, 1893. According to Easton, Governor Barber was selected as the defendant because both the defense and prosecution can make a plausible argument about his involvement in the infamous range war.

The mock trial event itself will prove to be as historic as the case on which it is based. The all-star cast is comprised of UW law students, alumni and professors, as well as prominent figures from around the state, including Senator Alan Simpson (J.D. ’58) playing Governor Barber, Governor Michael Sullivan (B.S. ’61; J.D. ’64) as a defense attorney, Wyoming Supreme Court Justice Kate Fox (B.A. ’79; J.D. ’89) as a prosecuting attorney, author John Davis (B.A. ’64; J.D. ’68)as the witness Asa Mercer, State Treasurer Mark Gordon as the witness Senator Joseph M. Carey, and District Court Judge Wade Waldrip (B.A. ’74; J.D. ’79), who will be the presiding Judge over the trial.

The final component of the event is the opportunity for law students to gain some hands-on experience in front of a court room. Serving as co-counsel for the state with Justice Fox will be third-year law student Clayton Gregersen (Big Horn, Wyo.). As a Wyoming native, Gregersen is excited to be a part of a case that happened so close to where he grew up, but is more excited about the experience he has gained in the process.

“Working with Justice Fox has been incredible. Being able to gain that mentoring experience and bouncing ideas off of her has been a phenomenal opportunity, one that is certainly unique to Wyoming” says Gregersen. He hopes to bring those skills to the table on the production night. “I think the event is going to be really fun. It is similar to an actual criminal trial in that you can’t anticipate what the witnesses are going to say. As the attorney, you have to be prepared to go in whatever direction they take you.”

Teamed with Governor Sullivan for the Defense is third-year student Laurene Rogers (Laramie, Wyo.). Rogers shares the opinion that working with Wyoming’s elite has been a remarkable experience. She says, “Working with Governor Sullivan has definitely been the highlight. The vast amounts of knowledge he has about Wyoming and the law is so impressive. As a student getting to learn from him is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.”  She notes, “It will be an impressive night for the public to see Governor Sullivan and the rest of the fantastic cast in action.”

Keeping in the spirit of the event, the cast will be in full costumes. Wyoming Public Television will film the trial with an anticipated broadcast in the Spring of 2015. Professor Phil Roberts’ Wyoming History graduate students are compiling essays that will be available via Wyoming Public Television’s website about the Johnson County Cattle War’s impact on Wyoming History.

The mock trial is free and open to the public. An overflow room with a live stream of the trial will be provided in the event of high occupancy. Refreshments will be provided.