CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Supreme Court has agreed to review a contempt order issued by the Campbell County Circuit Court against State Public Defender Diane Lozano.
In a brief submitted to the Supreme Court, Lozano claims that the circuit court judges had no authority to issue either a criminal or civil contempt order against her and her office.
The Campbell County Circuit Court found Lozano and the State Public Defender’s Office in contempt for refusing to assign a public defender to two misdemeanor cases.
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That decision came with $250 in fines per day until the public defender’s office showed compliance with the court’s order to assign public defenders in each of those cases.
An additional $1,000 per day fine was imposed until the office agrees to accept all cases for which they are appointed, or implements a program to appoint private attorneys outside of their office.
The Campbell court issued a stay order on these penalties until the Supreme Court reaches a decision in the case.
“It is not clear whether the $1,500 per day fine was intended to criminally punish the State Public Defender for asserting her attorneys were unavailable or was intended to civilly coerce acceptance of the appointment,” a brief presenting Lozano’s case to the Supreme Court says.
“If the contempt order is criminal, then the circuit court lacked jurisdiction because it failed to initiate a separate criminal contempt proceeding,” the brief adds. “Additionally, if the contempt order was a civil contempt order, as the circuit court asserted, then the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to impose a civil penalty against a non-party.”
“In either instance, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to issue the contempt order against the State Public Defender.”
Lozano is also asking the Supreme Court to help clarify rules pertaining to the State Public Defender’s obligations. The brief states that Lozano’s position is that her office is only obligated to appoint a public defender if one is available, but that the court should appoint outside counsel if not.
“This is an issue of great public importance and it is necessary to decide the issue to provide guidance to the State Public Defender and the lower courts,” the brief states.
The argument also claims that the “circuit court abused its discretion when it imposed a monetary fine against Lozano in her official capacity as State Public Defender.”
“The circuit court also abused its discretion by failing to support that monetary fine with factual findings,” it adds.
Lozano is asking that the Supreme Court overturn the lower court’s contempt order and declare it “null and void for lack of jurisdiction.”
When the Supreme Court will issue a final decision is not stated in the public docket of the case.