Attorneys for Circuit Court Judge Paul Phillips argue that Phillips acted within his authority and interpreted state law correctly when he found State Public Defender Diane Lozano to be in contempt of court this summer, according to a brief filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court last week.
On May 1, State Public Defender Diane Lozano notified Circuit Court judges that her attorneys in Campbell County would no longer represent people charged with misdemeanors.
She said public defenders in Campbell County had such a heavy workload that they were unable to fulfill their ethical obligations in representing those who can’t afford private counsel.
A couple of weeks later, Phillips found Lozano to be in contempt of court and fined her $1,500 a day. The case is now before the state Supreme Court.
Phillips and the Circuit Court of the Sixth Judicial District are represented by Hampton O’Neill, John Masterson and Alaina Stedillie of Casper. Lozano is represented by state Attorney General Bridget Hill and deputy attorney general Michael McGrady.
In August, Lozano and her counsel argued that Phillips exceeded his authority when finding her in contempt, wrongly interpreted state law and abused his discretion by fining her without following the proper process and without “factual basis.”
In a brief filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday, O’Neill wrote that Lozano failed to provide an alternative solution to the public defender issue “other than pure disobedience of lawful court orders.”
“There is no dispute that (Phillips) issued lawful orders appointing the Public Defender’s Office to represent two indigent defendants,” O’Neill wrote, adding that Lozano “deliberately violated those orders.”
A circuit court “has the inherent power to compel compliance with its orders through civil contempt findings,” O’Neill wrote.
Phillips also correctly interpreted the Wyoming Public Defender Act, his counsel wrote. Lozano said the law allows her to declare her office “unavailable.” While this is true, O’Neill wrote that Phillips’ authority to appoint the public defender under state statute “takes precedence over any right the public defender may have to assert her unavailability.”
Lozano “refused to acknowledge” the Circuit Court’s authority and “she knew the appropriate process, but chose to ignore it,” O’Neill wrote. “Her actions — far better than her words — prove that she never intended to negotiate or engage in a discussion.”
If the Supreme Court sides with Lozano in this case, O’Neill wrote, “she alone decides if, when and under what circumstances her office will accept indigent defense appointments from the Circuit Court.
“This proposition creates a chaotic and uncertain logistical and legal landscape utterly contrary to the intent of the Public Defender Act,” he wrote, adding that the indigent defendant is the one who suffers most from this uncertainty, which is “a perverse result.”