SUBLETTE COUNTY – On Feb. 17, Dr. Rex F. Rammell’s pretrial videoconference went in two diverging directions.
One moves toward the April 28 jury trial in Sublette County Circuit Court over Rammell’s alleged brand-inspection violations. The other asks 9th District Court this question – “Is Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a) unconstitutional?”
Rammell told presiding 3rd Circuit Court Judge Gregory Corpening he wasn’t sure the trial would be necessary, pending a timely response to his request for declaratory judgment on this question.
Rammell said he had mailed the declaratory judgment question to District Court and the motion to continue his trial in Circuit Court to the respective courts where they were filed by Friday. Neither was acted upon last week.
The declaratory judgment petition is assigned to 9th District Judge Marv Tyler, who in the past reassigned Rammell’s higher-court issues to 4th District Judge John Fenn.
Judge Fenn had stepped in when Sublette County Deputy Attorney Stan Cannon petitioned the court to review a December 2019 decision by Magistrate Clay Kainer. Kainer had presided over Rammell’s brand-inspection violations case from the previous June at the request of Circuit Court Judge Curt Haws. Kainer ruled in December 2019 that Rammell’s stop by a deputy and the resulting report under Wyoming Statute 11-21-103(a) did violate Rammell’s protections against search and seizure.
Judge Haws reviewed Kainer’s decision and signed off on it while Cannon filed a petition for review in District Court.
With questions rising early on about the law’s constitutionality, the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office stepped in to protect W.S. 11-21-103(a).
Another looming issue was that Sublette County commissioners had not officially approved Kainer’s magistrate appointment until after Kainer’s ruling was challenged.
Judge Fenn determined last year Kainer was not properly appointed and used the wrong legal analysis. He remanded the case back to Circuit Court for a judge to apply the “Burger analysis” to the previous evidence suppression hearing.
The three-pronged Burger analysis is at the heart of Rammell’s declaratory judgment petition. He argues that transporting personal horses from one Wyoming county to another is not a “commercial” or “pervasively regulated commercial activity” where warrantless brand inspections should be allowed.
In 45 years, the Supreme Court has accepted only four industries in this category – liquor sales, firearms dealing, mining and an automobile junkyard, according to Rammell.
Rammell told the judge and Cannon he wants to hold off on his jury trial until this question is answered. Cannon noted he would object on the grounds that a civil action cannot be brought at the same time as a criminal court action.
The six-person jury trial is set for Wednesday, April 28, in the Pinedale courtroom, which will require substantial planning and procedures to select a jury, hear witnesses and operate safely due to COVID precautions.
“This case has gone on a really long time and to the point where, if it’s going to trial, it’s time to get it there,” Judge Corpening said.
He continued planning the trial and questioned Rammell several times about representing himself, advising him to consider retaining an attorney.
“Are you certain you want to proceed without counsel?” Judge Corpening asked.
“I told you – I’m not certain about anything,” Rammell said, adding only that “today” was he okay with it. “I still am optimistic this case will never go to trial.”
However, Rammell declined to waive his right to counsel, adding he needed more time for questions than he had that day.
The judge said Rammell and Cannon should talk more about another option – conditional guilty pleas to the four brand-inspection violations – Rammell could withdraw the pleas if the higher court agrees the state law is unconstitutional.
Judge Corpening continued the pretrial videoconference until Monday, March 22, at 2 p.m.