CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Wyoming Gov.-elect Matt Mead picked Greg Phillips, a federal prosecutor and longtime friend, to serve as Wyoming state attorney general, Mead announced Monday.
Phillips, 50, has served for the past eight years as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Cheyenne. Mead was Phillips' boss there before Mead stepped down as U.S. Attorney in 2007.
Phillips also has worked as a lawyer for the state and in private practice with Mead in Cheyenne.
"Greg is a critical thinker and he gets the job done," Mead said in a prepared statement. "His leadership is exactly what Wyoming needs to address tough issues such as federal health care mandates and wolf management."
Mead said he believes Wyoming needs to take strong steps to make its views and needs heard when the federal government makes policy that affects the state.
Phillips and Mead were friends in law school at the University of Wyoming, according to Mead's statement. Phillips said Monday he has great respect for Mead.
"There's no one I have more faith in, and that's a good chunk of the reason I'm going to that job, because the opportunity to work with Matt was too tempting," Phillips said.
Mead campaigned on the pledge to have Wyoming join Florida and some 20 other states now challenging the recent federal health care overhaul law. Mead has said he's particularly concerned that a provision of the law that would require people to buy health insurance is unconstitutional.
Phillips said he's started to research Florida's legal challenge and expects that Wyoming will enter that lawsuit in January. Phillips said Wyoming, in common with the other states, will probably contract with outside lawyers to handle the case.
"Just the same, we will study that out and if we believe something has been missed that is a valid point, we would seek to raise that by our own filing as well," Phillips said of the health care lawsuit.
Phillips will also oversee Wyoming's legal challenge to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's rejection of the state's proposed wolf management plan.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson, of Cheyenne, last week ruled the federal wildlife agency was wrong to reject the state's proposal to designate wolves as predators that could be shot on sight in most of the state. The judge ordered the agency to reconsider whether following the state's plan would give wolves adequate protection.
Phillips said it's now up to the federal government to decide whether to appeal Johnson's ruling. If it does, it will likely take a long time to resolve the issue, he said.
Phillips said his work in the U.S. Attorney's Office has been almost exclusively as a prosecutor. He said he hasn't worked on civil cases involving the state of Wyoming.
Mead will be sworn in as governor in early January. According to his statement, current Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg will serve through the end of the session in early March. It states that Phillips will serve as Mead's special assistant for legislative affairs until the legislative session ends.
"Greg is an excellent pick, and we'll be working together to make the transition as seamless as possible," Salzburg said Monday.
After graduation from law school at UW, Phillips worked two years for Judge Johnson.
Phillips has worked in private practice in Evanston and also in Cheyenne, where he and Mead were law partners. Phillips also has worked part-time for the Wyoming Attorney General's Office.
Phillips served two terms as a Democratic state senator from Uinta County, from 1992 to 1998.
Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, who has been in the Legislature since the late 1970s, said Monday he had good memories of Phillips' service in the state senate and applauded Mead's selection.
"He's relatively young and vigorous, and a Democrat, which is a little bit of a surprise," Scott said of Phillips. "That's all right, we're not super-partisan here in Wyoming. I think Greg will be a great choice."