LARAMIE — Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent told the Laramie Boomerang on Friday that she’ll move forward with the prosecution of a Uinta County man who open-carried a gun on the University of Wyoming’s campus in 2018.
The same day, her office filed for Albany County circuit court Judge Robert Castor to schedule a status conference, the first step in resuming the misdemeanor prosecution that’s been on hold for a year.
Trent’s decision not to drop the case sets up the potential for the Wyoming Supreme Court to ultimately reconsider whether UW’s regulation banning possession of all firearms on campus is compliant with state law.
The defendant, Lyle Williams, was cited for trespassing by UW Police in 2018 after carrying a firearm at the UW Conference Center during last year’s convention of the Wyoming Republican Party.
The actual prosecution of Williams was stayed while lawyers battled over the underlying legality of UW’s gun ban in Albany County’s district court — and later before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The Wyoming Supreme Court decided not to make a ruling on the legality of the gun regulation, instead deciding that all underlying legal questions needed to be determined during the actual prosecution of Williams.
Trent’s decision to move forward with Williams’ prosecution gives her office the responsibility for making the same kind of arguments UW’s lawyers had in the mirror case — that state law does not prevent the university from regulating gun possession on campus.
Trent said she’s decided to move forward with the prosecution because of the need to find clarity on the legality of UW’s gun regulation.
“This is an issue that needs to be decided by the courts,” she said, noting that the unresolved legal question has “created some confusion for some groups on whether they want to hold events on campus.”
Trent said she does believe there are ways UW could revise its gun regulations that might negate the need for such court battles.
“There are ways in which the University of Wyoming could review their current regulations, in which they could address use of firearms and when it’s appropriate on campus,” Trent said. “I think there are ways the regulation could be amenable to all parties, but it’s my understanding that the trustees are not interested in re-examining their own policies.”
The county attorney said her decision to move forward with the case was partially inspired by a recent conversation she had with UW General Counsel Tara Evans.
Trent said she suggested a few ways UW might revise its gun regulation, but was told by Evans that the board of trustees was “not interested in doing such.”
Laramie attorney Jason Tangeman, who represents Williams, told the Boomerang that there are a few legal procedures he’ll initiate in the hope that he can land the Williams case back before the Wyoming Supreme Court in 1-2 months.
“We believe that the Rules of Criminal Procedure allow the circuit court to refer this matter to the district court and then to the supreme court,” he said. “We just want to get back to the Supreme Court to decide these important issues for the university and Lyle Williams.”
After Williams was originally charged last year, Tangeman filed for a declaratory judgment on the matter in District Judge Tori Kricken’s court, leading to a November decision by the district court judge that upended the common understanding of Wyoming’s gun laws.
But in September, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that Kricken had overstepped her authority by even making a ruling in the case.
Castor had stayed his proceedings while Kricken reviewed the case, but the supreme court determined that wasn’t enough of an endorsement of Kricken handling the case.