Public notice petition dismissed

CASPER — A judge Wednesday dismissed a petition to overturn a pair of ordinances exempting Mills and Bar Nunn from state statutes requiring public notices to be published in a newspaper. 

Judge Daniel Forgey said that the case, brought by the Casper Star-Tribune and the Wyoming Press Association, did not adequately prove the paper had standing in the matter. 

Attorney Bruce Moats, representing the paper and the WPA, said he plans to refile the petition with a bolstered argument for the Star-Tribune’s interest in the ordinances. His task now, Moats said, is to explicitly state the legal relationship between the paper and the municipalities, relying on state statutes that require public notices like council meeting minutes and project proposals to be published in a local newspaper of “general circulation.” 

Neither Mills nor Bar Nunn have stopped publishing those notices, said Pat Holscher, the attorney representing them. 

The ordinances passed by both municipalities, he argues, merely give them the option to publish them other places including on the municipalities’ websites or in public places including post offices, a fire station or library. 

Holscher said he hasn’t heard any complaints from residents about the accessibility of those notices. The only parties that seem to be interested in the ordinances, he said, have been the press and its lawyers. 

And while the Star-Tribune could have claimed the ordinances would hurt the paper financially, Holscher pointed out, money wasn’t discussed in the petition. 

“There is nobody with standing in this suit,” Holscher said. 

But Moats said he and his clients are concerned that the ordinances give Mills and Bar Nunn the ability to cease the long-held practice of putting those notices in the paper at any time. 

In his decision Wednesday, Forgey cited a 2018 case in which a Wyoming man tried to sue state legislative leadership on behalf of the state’s taxpayers over an issue related to awarding bids for construction projects. 

The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld a district court ruling that the taxpayers did not have grounds to sue, and if they did, it would set a precedent for any citizen to be able to sue the government for anything. 

The paper’s petition had already been amended once in the case and still failed to make a case for its standing, Forgey said. 

Holscher also raised the question during Wednesday’s hearing of the modern-day definition of a newspaper. When the statute was written, he said, there was likely only one definition — the physical stack of paper that arrived on your doorstep or for sale in a newsstand. These days, Holscher said, a newspaper could also be an online publication, such as Oil City News.