October 2019 - WPDN

WPDN partner Stuart Day was recently re-elected as the President of Equal Justice Wyoming.

Equal Justice Wyoming is a state-funded civil legal services program working with Wyoming legal aid providers and community organizations to help people with limited income find help for their legal problems. This program was created about 5 years ago as a way to “give back” to the community and create opportunities for people who may not otherwise have them. Stuart Day was recently re-elected as the President of Equal Justice Wyoming and it is an honor that cannot be understated. 

“[Wyoming Legislature] didn’t have any funding for civil legal aid,” Day stated. “If you have a criminal matter, an attorney is appointed for you, but if you have civil matters, that’s not the case. So, we worked to lobby the legislature to create an add on to criminal citations of $10 each that would fund an organization to raise funds to provide civil legal aid.”

Equal Justice Wyoming provides just that- equal justice. Through various grants and other forms of fundraising, this non-profit organization can provide legal aid to countless individuals who may not have otherwise had representation. 

Mr. Day was elected to a 2nd term as the President of Equal Justice and it’s a position that he takes very seriously.

“I had been part of the State of Wyoming Bar Foundation for a number of years before [the creation of Equal Justice Wyoming],” he said. Part of the Bar Foundation’s job was to do [what EJW does] on a much more limited scale because there was less money available and involved.

“With Equal justice, Wyoming, I was involved in the lobbying to create the funding source and I started off on the initial board and have been there ever since. Now we grant typically a little over a million dollars a year to various entities for those civil legal aid projects.”

Acting as a precursor to Equal Justice Wyoming is the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission- an organization that Mr. Day was also recently reappointed to for another term.

Mr. Day stated that the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission was created “as a way to kind of try and identify issues regarding [citizens’] access to justice. The Constitution talks about everybody having access to it and a number of judges have said justice delayed is really justice denied. So that was created as an umbrella organization to try and identify issues to help remind all citizens of Wyoming with access to the courts.”

Equal Justice Wyoming, as well as the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission, relies on several individuals that ensure its success. Mr. Day is proud to offer his skills and experience to a team dedicated to bringing equal justice to the community.

When Kyle Ridgeway was just a third-year law student, he participated in a class that offered more in just two weeks than many law school courses offer all year. As a student, Kyle found this experience pivotal to his education as a lawyer. Now, as an attorney for Williams, Porter, Day & Neville, Kyle was honored to take part in this class again- this time as a speaker.

Originally, around 2012, Steve Easton, a former Dean and current professor of the University of Wyoming College of Law created an experiential, immersive trial class that he called ‘The Summer Trial Institute.’ In this class, third-year law students would spend two weeks of the summer delving into the ins and outs of trial practice. Instructors from all over the state would provide guest lectures, answer questions and share their experiences. Judges, lawyers and many others involved in the world of trial law would speak to the students and offer insight into the courtroom.

Additionally, the last two days of class feature an immersive trial, both for a jury trial and for a judge trial. All of the roles are filled by actual professionals. From the judge to the jury- even the court reporter. The students are able to try a case in front of these professionals and they are given actual rulings, just like a real trial. They receive feedback after the fact and are able to ask questions.

Recently, other members of WPDN were able to participate in the Summer Trial Institute as well, and their presence even further legitimized what Easton and his class are trying to accomplish. Stuart Day conducted the Civil Pre-Trial training for the participants, while Craig Silva conducted the Criminal Pre-Trial. Both men agreed that this is an experience that every would-be lawyer should experience.

“There’s nothing better than hearing from like actual practicing attorneys about how things work,” Ridgeway stated. “It’s hard when you’re in law school because, you know-mock trials are mock trials, right? There’s always this vagueness involved with those things.”

This experience is not a mock trial. While the results are irrelevant, the experience is not.

“It gives you the opportunity to make mistakes,” he continued. “And it’s in an environment where it’s okay to do that- you’d rather make mistakes in an environment like this than you would in a real courtroom with a real client.”

The outcome may not be real, but the process is as real as it gets without having passed the bar exam. And it’s the process, Kyle says, that matters most.

“By the time you’re in your third year of law school, it’s really important to do these kinds of practical things, because it really prepares you as best as anything can, short of becoming a lawyer a year earlier,” Ridgeway said. “The only way you can really learn things and make mistakes and if you’re not willing to do it if you’re not willing to try things, you’re never going to get anywhere. So, it’s important- not just this program, but lots of the experiential learning programs that they have at the UW law school that are really helpful for developing and maturing you for when you become a lawyer.”

The lessons Kyle learned as a student in ‘The Summer Trial Institute’ were pivotal to his growth as a lawyer. But he also learned a lesson or two when he returned to teach, all these years later.