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First ruling likely next week on Hill lawsuit

Mar 15, 2013 - The Associated Press

CHEYENNE -- After hearing more than two hours of testimony and arguments, a district judge said Thursday he will rule in a week on whether to restore the powers and duties recently stripped from state schools Superintendent Cindy Hill.

Judge Thomas Campbell said he also will decide then whether to expedite Hill's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the changes in her duties by sending it directly to the state Supreme Court.

Hill and two Platte County residents sued over a new law that removed Hill as head of the Wyoming Education Department. The law, which was approved in the legislative session that ended earlier this month, replaces the superintendent with a director appointed by the governor but keeps the superintendent as a statewide elected official.

Hill's lawsuit asks that Campbell grant a preliminary injunction restoring her as the head of the Education Department while the issue is litigated.

Since the law took effect at the end of January, a petition led by the Wyoming Constitution Party has been circulating around the state to repeal it, and Gov. Matt Mead has empaneled an independent board to investigate concerns about how the agency was run.

Hill testified that her ability to do her job had been changed "significantly" by the law.

She noted that she now oversees a budget of about $1.6 million, compared with $1.9 billion as head of the Education Department. She said she now has an authorized staff of seven, compared with about 150 with the department.

In addition, she testified that the Education Department had seen about a 45 percent turnover in employees under her two years as administrator and that they were replaced with competent and capable individuals.

Hill's attorney also argued that the law disenfranchised voters who cast ballots for superintendent and governor in 2010, when Hill was elected to a four-year term.

But Michael said many voters may not even remember whom they voted for.

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