In poll, attorneys give local judges high marks

Posted 10/15/20

Attorneys who practice in the Big Horn Basin’s courtrooms generally approve of the jobs being done by the area’s judges, according to a new survey.

Scores of lawyers weighed in on the …

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In poll, attorneys give local judges high marks


Attorneys who practice in the Big Horn Basin’s courtrooms generally approve of the jobs being done by the area’s judges, according to a new survey.

Scores of lawyers weighed in on the performance of judges across the state in the Wyoming State Bar’s 2020 Judiciary Advisory Poll, which was issued Thursday. The results indicate that all four judges based in the Fifth Judicial District — District Court Judge Bill Simpson of Cody, District Court Judge Bobbi Overfield of Thermopolis, Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters of Cody and Circuit Court Judge Ed Luhm of Worland — enjoy broad support among the attorneys who practice before them.

The state bar said in a news release that not quite half of Wyoming’s active lawyers, 42.5%, chose to participate in the poll. In order to weigh in on a specific judge’s performance, an attorney had to affirm to the pollsters “that he/she has indeed appeared before that particular judge during the previous two years,” the bar explained in a news release.

The release added that, “The poll is NOT a competition between judges, as different attorneys are evaluating each judge. The poll is to assist a judge in identifying areas of opportunity for improvement.”

It asked lawyers to rate judges in 11 different areas, ranging from their attentiveness to their knowledge and preparedness. Simpson, Waters, Overfield and Luhm all generally received high marks, albeit with some differences.


Judge Bill Simpson

Between the 2018 and 2020 surveys, Judge Simpson’s scores dropped in all 11 areas measured. He ranked below the average for district court judges in each area except courteousness and politeness, where an overwhelming 93% of the attorneys said they approved of his performance.

The judge’s weakest marks came for his industriousness and promptness in carrying out his judicial duties: One in four attorneys — 26.5% — strongly or somewhat disapproved of Simpson’s performance in that area. Still, a clear majority of those polled — 64 out of 102, or 62.7% — said they approved of his promptness. In the other areas, Simpson’s approval rating ranged from 59% to 81%.

Simpson is currently two years into a six-year term. In 2018, an overwhelming 85.2% of voters across the Big Horn Basin chose to keep Simpson on the bench. In that year’s Judicial Advisory Poll, 87% of the 69 attorneys surveyed similarly favored retaining Simpson. Gov. Matt Mead appointed him to the bench in 2017.


Judge Bruce Waters

As for Circuit Court Judge Waters, his ratings improved in most areas between 2018 and 2020, though his scores generally remained below the average for circuit court judges.

Attorneys gave him the highest marks for his industriousness and promptness, with a whopping 94.5% of the 36 responding attorneys approving of his performance in that area. His lowest rating came for his open-mindedness and impartiality, with 27.8% of the attorneys — or 10 of 36 — expressing some level of disapproval. Still, 63.9% expressed approval.

Waters is two years into a four-year term that voters overwhelmingly (85%) approved in 2018. In that year’s Judicial Advisory Poll, some 72% of attorneys had supported Waters’ retention bid. He was named to the bench by Gov. Jim Geringer in 2001.


Judges Bobbie Overfield and Ed Luhm

Voters across Park, Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie counties will decide in November whether to retain judges Overfield and Luhm. Attorneys who’ve practiced before the pair gave them an endorsement in the bar association’s poll.

Out of 71 attorneys who weighed in on Overfield’s performance, 64 of them — about 90% — said they support keeping her on the bench for another six years; seven said no.

Similarly, 35 out of 40 responding attorneys (87.5%) voiced their support for retaining Luhm for the coming four years.

Both judges are relatively recent appointees, named to their positions by Gov. Mead in the latter part of 2018.

Overfield’s ratings were generally close to the average scores seen by other district court judges around the state; at least 70% of responding lawyers somewhat or strongly approved of her performance in every single area. Her highest rating came for her integrity and ethics, where 87.5% of respondents approved and only 2.8% disapproved.

Luhm similarly received high marks for his integrity and ethics, while 94.8% of the responding attorneys approved of his courteousness and politeness. His lowest ratings stemmed from his application of the rules of evidence and procedure, where 21.6% of attorneys either strongly or somewhat disapproved of his performance there. (The majority, 69.4%, approved.) His ratings came in below the state average for circuit court judges in most areas.


Supreme Court

Voters across the state will also decide whether to retain Wyoming Supreme Court Justices Lynne Boomgaarden and Kari Jo Gray. Wyoming attorneys overwhelmingly favored keeping them both on the bench.

Of the 455 attorneys who rated Boomgaarden, 89.7% of them supported her retention while 73.1% of 391 responding attorneys supported Gray’s retention. 

Gray and Boomgaarden were both appointed to the Supreme Court in 2018 by Gov. Mead.

To see the full results of the Wyoming State Bar’s Judicial Advisory Polls, visit