CHEYENNE — After 32 years in the criminal justice field, Laramie County District Judge Michael Davis is moving to the state’s highest court.
He was appointed in August to serve as a Wyoming Supreme Court justice by Gov. Matt Mead.
He will replace Justice Michael Golden, who is leaving after 24 years on the Supreme Court.
Mead said in a statement it was tough to decide between the three nominees, which included judges John Brooks, of Douglas, and Keith Kautz, of Torrington.
In the end, Davis was appointed because of his experience, tenure on the bench and strong writing skills.
Davis has been a judge in the Laramie County District Court since 2008.
Before being appointed, he worked as an attorney at the Yonkee and Toner law firm in Sheridan, beginning in 1980.
“As I gained the experience that you get in 27, 28 years of law practice, I figured I could put those talents to good use as a judge,” he said. “I thought I’d apply and see what happened.”
And when the Supreme Court position became available, Davis decided to apply in a similar fashion.
“I thought if I could be of service — useful — in that capacity as a justice, I would once again put in my name and see what happened,” he said.
Davis’ wife, Janet Davis, a court reporter in U.S. District Court, said the Supreme Court will be a good challenge for her husband.
“It’s a good academic challenge for him,” she said. “He’s a wonderful student of the law — he enjoys the research and delving into the law.”
The criminal justice field was not something Davis had in mind when he was out of high school and working odd jobs.
“He didn’t graduate from high school; he got his GED,” Janet Davis said. “He saw that whole side of life first.”
After getting his GED, Davis eventually earned a degree from the University of Wyoming College of Law.
This experience gives him insight and compassion as a judge, Janet Davis said.
“When he is dealing with juveniles, he brings that perspective,” she said. “Young people can say, ‘This is a person who started where I started. It’s not out of reach for me.’”
She added this compassion is extended to all the people he deals with.
“They aren’t just cases to him,” she said. “They’re individuals.”
And Davis doesn’t take the responsibility of making decisions on each case lightly.
“It’s a very high-pressure job, and every decision is critical to someone,” he said.
Davis said each sentencing decision requires looking at a number of factors, such as if the individual is a threat to society or if they can be rehabilitated.
Judges also have to be balanced in their decisions, he said. And all of these factors must be weighed in a limited amount of time.
“I’ve done a lot of hard things in my life,” Davis said. “This is the hardest of all because you are working at a tremendous pace.”
Despite the challenges, court reporter Tammy Fleming said Davis is always prepared and makes the right legal decisions.
“He’s so thorough — he reads everything before he goes to court,” she said. “He makes sure he knows everything before he goes in.”
This attention to detail and intelligence will definitely be missed around the office, Fleming said.
“People say they don’t want to lose him here, but we’re glad he will be making decisions at the Supreme Court,” she said.
Davis will begin at the Supreme Court sometime in October. Before then, he is planning to wrap up his work at the district court and talk to Golden about what to expect.
“I want to get the benefit of his many years of experience,” he said.
He said he is nervous to start his new job. He is also eager to get started, and he appreciates the experience he gained while on the district court bench.
“It’s a tremendous responsibility,” he said. “I want to discharge it well.”