CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday over whether a former state lawmaker and a resident can proceed with their lawsuit alleging state officials have mismanaged a $300 million project to renovate the state Capitol complex in Cheyenne.
The main issue before the high court was whether former state Rep. Gerald Gay, a Republican from Casper, and Evanston resident Karl Allred had legal cause to sue the state.
Laramie County District Judge Catherine Rogers earlier this year dismissed the lawsuit, but Allred and Gay appealed that decision.
Gay and Allred contend that Gov. Matt Mead, also a Republican, and legislative leaders violated the state constitution by issuing contracts for the project without soliciting competitive bids. They are seeking a judge’s order for all future project contracts to undergo competitive bidding.
Mead has said that the state has followed the law in managing the contracts for the project.
Lawyers for the state argued that Allred and Gay’s lawsuit did not meet legal standards of being personally harmed by how the renovation project has been managed.
Justices quizzed attorneys on both sides about the legal standards needed for the lawsuit to proceed and legal precedents on who can file lawsuits.
State Attorney General Peter Michael, is named in the lawsuit as a defendant and attended the hearing but declined to comment after it ended.
Gay said he was disturbed by the state’s argument that citizens cannot use the court system to challenge government officials.
“We have to have an avenue to bring our grievances,” Gay said. “When I hear the saying that certain matters should be settled outside the courtroom, I don’t think there’s a way to do that.”
Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde argued that allowing anyone to sue the state management of the Capitol renovation project would result in constant litigation.
Drake Hill, Allred and Gay’s lawyer, said democracy would be threatened if citizens are denied the ability to sue state officials.
He said any legal standards that might restrict who can sue the state in the case are superseded because so much taxpayer money has been spent without an attempt by officials to seek bids for the work.
The Capitol Building Restoration Oversight Group, a panel that includes senior lawmakers as well as the governor, was formed in 2014 to oversee the restoration project expected to continue at least through next year.
The Legislature, state elected officials and state workers who are normally housed in the Capitol building are working from temporary offices throughout Cheyenne.