Circuit Court Judge Waters to retire in December

Search for replacement underway

Posted 8/12/21

After more than 20 years on the bench, Park County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters is retiring.

“I’ve been doing it long enough,” he said Tuesday.

Waters’ final day …

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Circuit Court Judge Waters to retire in December

Search for replacement underway

Posted

After more than 20 years on the bench, Park County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters is retiring.

“I’ve been doing it long enough,” he said Tuesday.

Waters’ final day presiding over various criminal and civil matters won’t come until Dec. 3, but the search for a replacement is already underway, with applications due by the end of the month.

The new judge will need to be a Wyoming resident and authorized to practice law, but they could come from any part of the state. At the time that Waters was appointed to the position and moved to Cody, in early 2001, he’d spent the previous 14 years practicing law in Laramie.

“I thank my lucky stars I landed here,” Waters said. “It’s worked out well for my family and my kids.”

He said it should be “easy” to find a replacement.

Serving as a circuit court judge means overseeing a high volume of disputes, ranging from the early stages of major felony cases to handing out sentences for minor traffic violations to issuing protection orders and sorting out disputes over debts. In the fiscal year that ran from July 2019 through June 2020, there were more than 5,600 different cases filed in Park County Circuit Court — and Waters handled just about all of them. 

Waters said the job requires patience, and “sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don’t.” Since announcing his retirement earlier this month, the judge said he’s already had two people say in open court that they were happy to see him go, so “maybe I don’t have the patience I should,” he quipped.

The new judge, Waters said, will need to understand the differences between Cody and Powell.

“After I got here, I thought Powell and Cody would be pretty similar towns, and they really aren’t,” he said. “I understand why now, but I didn’t when I first got here.”

While Cody has more tourism, Powell is more agricultural and has a larger Hispanic population, he said, with each community having different expectations. 

“People just think differently based on how they’re raised,” he said.

Both Park County communities, the judge added, are “much different than Laramie or Cheyenne or Casper.”

Waters said his replacement will also need to be flexible in working with attorneys. Although remote technology has eased the burden over the last year, he noted the region’s public defenders must appear in courtrooms around the northern Big Horn Basin, which can make scheduling a challenge.

Wyoming’s Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting expressions of interest in the circuit court position through 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 30. Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox chairs the seven-member commission, which includes three lawyers chosen by the Wyoming State Bar and three non-lawyers picked by the governor; none of the current members live in the Big Horn Basin.

The nominating commission will choose its three top candidates and forward those names to Gov. Mark Gordon, who will choose Park County’s next circuit court judge. Voters across the state’s Fifth Judicial District — that is, the Big Horn Basin — will then decide whether to retain Gordon’s nominee in the 2022 election.

In the 2018 election, Waters was overwhelmingly retained, with 85.1% of voters choosing to keep him on the bench for another four-year term.

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