CHEYENNE – In an upstairs lobby of the Wyoming Supreme Court Building, the portraits of past justices smile down from their frames.
Walking around the room and down the stairs, one striking similarity becomes apparent: They’re all men.
Leaders in the Equality State often tout the success of being the first state to officially allow women to vote, but it has a much less sterling reputation for allowing women to take the bench in the judiciary.
A new exhibit in the Wyoming Supreme Court aims to raise awareness about that fact and celebrate the accomplishments of women in the state.
On Feb. 12, “Equality Hall” will be officially open to the public in the Supreme Court Building.
The hallway between the building’s entrance and the judicial library will be lined on the north side with portraits of influential women in Wyoming history, including Grace Raymond Hebard, the first female member of the Wyoming State Bar, and Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first female governor. More important to Sublette County will be the portrait and robe of and Ninth District Judge Elizabeth “Betty” Kail. The opening ceremony next month will include the unveiling of a portrait of Kail, the first female county court and district court judge in the state.
Kail was a 1959 graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law and was appointed in 1981 as a county judge in Fremont County. She served there for two years before being appointed to be a judge in the Ninth Judicial District.
“Betty Kail was a pioneer in the field of law for Wyoming women. … Her no-nonsense approach and graciousness from the bench earned her respect from the legal community,” Eydie Trautwein, director of legal resources and judicial education for the Wyoming Supreme Court, wrote.
According to her son Jared Kail, who still resides in Lander, she went to law school in the 1950s when very few women were studying law. “All of her classmates and staff were great,” Kail said. However, it sometimes led to awkward situations.
One time the FBI came to the class to discuss future employment, because the FBI hires a lot of attorneys. When Kail raised her hand to ask a question, the speaker said, “Honey the FBI isn’t interested in hiring female lawyers.” He then went on to answer other students’ questions.
“My mom wasn’t the kind to let that bother her,” Kail said.
After graduating, she returned to Lander to work in her father’s law firm along with Gerry Spence. “Of course she didn’t work with him long before he went to Jackson and started his own law firm,” Kail said.
She took time off when Jared was born. But then in 1981 she became a county court judge for two years before Gov. Ed Herschler appointed her for the Ninth District Circuit in 1983. She covered Fremont, Teton and Sublette counties for 18 years.
She shared her district with Judge Bob Ranck in Teton county, who her son refers to as “a tough old bird.” On one occasion, snow closed South Pass and his mother was unable to get to Pinedale for court. When she called Ranck, he told her, “Get over there, those people need you.” Kail said that always stuck with his mother, that she had a duty to make the trip and a duty to serve the people in her district.
Kail, who was 13 when his mother became Circuit Court Judge, said the position took an emotional toll on his mother.
“When you’re a judge, you never see the positive side of society,” Kail said. “As I grew up, she worried about my activities and compared me to the people in her court – until one time I reminded her I wasn’t one of the kids from her court.”
While his mother never shared with him the names of his schoolmates who appeard before her, there were times when kids would make disparaging comments. Others would “kiss up,” thinking if they were on his good side his mother would be lenient.
After his mother died in March of 2017, a social worker shared a story with Kail that gave him a new perspective. She had sentenced a teenage girl to a group home. That night after work, his mother stopped at the group home to see the girl, shocking the social worker who worked that night. His mother had explained it was her responsibility to be a role model, not just someone handing down punishment.
Kail did not following in his mother’s path as an attorney, working instead as computer programmer. However, he will proudly attend the February unveiling of his mother’s portrait.
Next to Kail hangs a portrait of Marilyn Kite, the first female justice and chief justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court.
She sat on the bench from 2000-2014.
Kite previously dedicated one wall to the portraits of women. But current Supreme Court Justice Kate Fox has helped expand the exhibit to honor more women and provide more information.
“We wanted to honor our history, but to also give the message there’s much to be done,” Fox said.
In 2016, just 19 percent of judges in Wyoming were women, according to data in a gender diversity survey of national directory of judges. Nationwide, 31 percent of state judges were female, according to the survey.
But some progress has been made.
Over the past four years, roughly 50 percent of judicial appointees have been women – a big shift from the past, Wyoming Chief Justice E. James Burke said Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Gov. Matt Mead appointed another woman to the Supreme Court bench, Lynne Boomgaarden. n
If cell towers are needed to improve Internet service where should they be located?
“The highest ground, so up on the ridge where the Verizon tower is located.”
Terry Allen, Pinedale
“At my house, so I could have better service,”
Adriana Loftus, Pinedale
“The northern end, there is a lot of open space,”
Rachael Lovejoy, Pinedale
"I would locate it in Bargerville. We don’t even have cell service most of the time.”
Lindy Guenther, Bargerville
“It doesn’t matter. Everybody is always looking down at their phone. No one is ever going to see them.”
Sean Reed, Pinedale
In case you were wondering …
… What is chronic wasting disease?
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING
Chronic wasting disease is a contagious neurological disease affecting deer, elk and moose. It causes a characteristic spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals resulting in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and death.
CWD belongs to a group of diseases known as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies. Within this family of diseases, there are several other variants that affect domestic animals: scrapie, which has been identified in domestic sheep and goats for more than 200 years, bovine spongiform encephalopathy in cattle, also known as “mad cow disease,” and transmissible mink encephalopathy in farmed mink.
Several rare human diseases are also TSEs. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurs naturally in about one out of every one million people worldwide. Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease has been associated with the large-scale outbreak of mad cow disease in cattle herds in Great Britain.
Let us know what you’re wondering. Email [email protected] or call (307) 367-2123.