CHEYENNE — Secretary of State Ed Buchanan barely had time to reorganize his office when he decided he would rather be a judge than an elected state official.
His decision to seek a circuit judge seat in his hometown of Torrington was a jolt.
He is one of three candidates for the judgeship being vacated by Randal Arp. Gov. Mark Gordon will name the appointee.
This was truly odd because Buchanan was a candidate for the Republican nomination for secretary of state in 2014. He lost on a narrow vote to Ed Murray, who subsequently resigned in 2018, Gov. Matt Mead named Buchanan to be his successor. And Buchanan went on to win the number two state-elected position on his own in the 2018 election.
So here he was sitting pretty. He had the political position he courted and could look forward to a full four-year term and likely another one after that if precedents held.
Buchanan said in a published statement that he feels called to seek a judgeship.
The pay difference of $53,000 a year also is attractive.
The secretary of state earns $92,000 a year.
Under a new law passed by the Legislature last winter, a circuit judge will earn $145,000 a year beginning July 1.
The Legislature has been reluctant to increase the salaries of the five elected state officials. The governor still earns $105,000 a year, well below the national average of $124,398 per year for state chief executives.
The other four state-elected, the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and state superintendent of public instruction also are stuck at $92,000 per year.
I’m not taking anything away from Buchanan’s qualifications. I’m sure he would be a fine judge, just as he was a fine House speaker.
Yet it’s a strange development.
Perhaps the Legislature should get serious about increasing the salaries of the top five when an experienced official like Buchanan leaves a nice safe top job for a different branch of government.
The governor could be next.
Anyway, the Legislature was generous to the judiciary in the session last winter.
Supreme Court justices will receive a raise from $165,000 to $175,000; district judges go from $150,000 to $160,000 and circuit court judges from $125,000 to $145,000.
In his State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature in January, Chief Justice Michael K. Davis made a pitch for the salary increases. The justices and district judges had not received an increase in pay since 2012 although the circuit judges received a small raise in 2017.
Davis noted that, unlike state government employees who are considered for regular pay raises, the judiciary is outside that loop and must come directly to the Legislature to get more compensation.
In his talk, Davis also reported that Peter Froelicher had been selected as the fourth district judge for the First Judicial District in Cheyenne.
He was able to help out the other three judges who had been doing the work of four and a half judges.
That gives you a sense of the workload of the First Judicial District.
So does a Supreme Court opinion issued April 19.
In that case, the court reversed the conviction of Joshua C. Osban for possession of methamphetamine because the state failed to bring him to trial within 180 days following his arraignment — the speedy trial rule.
The ruling was a split 3-2 with Justices Kautz and Boomgaarden dissenting. The two justices maintained that Osban had not been prejudiced by any delays in his trial.
The dissent, written by Kautz, relates how the district court issued an order stating the Osban case was on a trial stack, initially one of 23 set for trial on Sept. 11, 2017, and the subsequent scheduling and rescheduling as cases were added and removed from the stack.
The continuance of Osban’s trial past the speedy trial due date was required due to the “administration of justice,” Kautz wrote.
“The district court faced a nearly impossible task of getting defendants to trial, particularly in light of other obligations,” the dissent said.
Froelicher’s help was certainly needed.