CHEYENNE, Wyo. — 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.
Advocates of the law say it was necessary because Hill was delaying and hindering education reform efforts and doing a poor job of running the department. Hill has defended her administration of the department and contends the law is unconstitutional.
Hill's lawsuit asks that Campbell grant a preliminary injunction restoring her as the head of the Education Department while the issue is litigated.
But the state is resisting the request, saying the legal requirements for issuing an injunction have not been met.
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.
During Thursday's hearing, Hill's attorney, Angela Dougherty, argued that the law was preventing Hill from performing the administrative duties she was elected to do as superintendent.
"She is incapable of doing that at this point," Dougherty said.
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.
Hill also said decisions being made by Mead and the department's interim director that she disagrees with might not be able to be undone and could be bad for the state's education system.
Pete Michael, chief deputy attorney general who argued the state's side of the case, said the Education Department was still functioning and Hill wasn't the only person capable of making education decisions.
"I don't think we can assume that," Michael said.
Under cross examination by Michael, Hill acknowledged that there were other boards, commissions and officials involved with Wyoming education and that she was a member of most of those panels.
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.
During Hill's testimony, Campbell interrupted the superintendent several times because she wasn't answering a question directly.
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.
Dougherty said voters did not expect that the superintendent's duties and powers would be drastically changed in the middle of the term and that the governor would be given more power.
But Michael said that argument can't be a measure of voter disenfranchisement because each voter has different expectations and ideas about the people they cast ballots for. He added many voters may not even remember whom they voted for.
Following the hearing, Hill would only say that she was disturbed by Michael's comment about the memory of voters.