Lawsuit filed in Uinta County GOP dispute

EVANSTON — The conflict within the Uinta County Republican Party concerning whether leadership elections held earlier this year were conducted legally has made its way to the courts, with a lawsuit filed in Third District Court on Monday, April 19, petitioning for those elections to be declared null and void.

The suit, which lists Jon Conrad, State Rep. Danny Eyre, State Sen. Wendy Schuler, Ron Micheli, Clarence and Clara Vranish and former Bear River Mayor Troy Nolan as plaintiffs, was filed against the Uinta County Republican Party, as well as Lyle Williams, Elisabeth “Biffy” Jackson, Karl Allred and Jana Lee Williams.

At issue is whether the Williamses, Jackson and Allred were improperly allowed to vote during the Republican County Convention held on March 16. Plaintiffs claim that the four were not and are not members of the Uinta County Republican Party Central Committee, as all four were defeated at the ballot box in the 2020 primary election and lost that status. Conrad, Nolan and the Vranishes, however, were all elected to be members of the central committee in that election.

The Complaint for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief states county parties are required by law to hold an election for one chairman, one state committeeman and one state committeewoman and that only members of the county central committee are eligible to vote in that election. As Allred, Jackson and the Williamses were not members of the central committee, the plaintiffs assert that Lyle Williams, former chair, acted improperly in allowing the four — himself, his wife, his daughter (Jackson) and close friend (Allred) — to vote.

The suit further claims that those votes changed the outcome of the election, with Jackson then beating Conrad for the chair position by a vote of 21-19. Allred similarly won a spot as state committeeman by a vote of 21-19, while Jana Lee Wiilliams was elected state committeewoman by a vote of 23-17.

The suit further claims that Uinta County Clerk Amanda Hutchinson, the county’s chief election officer, was present at that March convention and “informed Mr. Williams of the restrictions set forth [in Wyoming law] and stated that only members of the central committee were allowed to vote.” However, the suit claims Lyle Williams “disregarded Hutchinson’s advisement” and proceeded to allow the four to vote.

The suit not only asks for the election to be declared null and void, but asks that Jackson, Allred and Jana Williams be restrained from taking any actions in their allegedly illegally obtained positions and that a new election be ordered as soon as possible, prior to the Wyoming Republican Party Central Committee meeting in mid-May.

In a recent letter to the editor, after complaints about the election made by Conrad first surfaced, Jackson claimed that “a minority contingent of the county central committee attempted to unseat the longstanding leadership of the party and replace them with new officers.” Jackson further stated, “The 2021 Uinta County leadership elections were held under the exact same rules as all elections in the past, as far back as anyone currently involved can remember and in strict accordance with the bylaws governing them.”

Wyoming Republican Party bylaws found online at the party website do, in fact, state that precinct committeemen and committeewomen, as well as elected officers, are eligible to vote at the county party elections.

The complaint, however, states that under state law — specifically W.S. 22-4-105 — only members of the county central committee are eligible to vote and “the county central committee of each political party consists of precinct committeemen and committeewomen elected in the county at the regular biennial primary election.”

Plaintiffs in the suit all claim adverse impacts due to the illegal election, including that “defendant Lyle Williams’ disregard of Wyo. Stat. 21-4-1-5 violated Mr. Conrad’s ability to stand for a proper election conducted by the county central committee made up of qualified electors.”

Nolan and the Vranishes claim that “allowing individuals who are not members of the county central committee to vote in the election of the county chairman and state committeeman and committeewoman position undermined and infringed on their rights as duly elected qualified members of the county central committee.”

Micheli, a “former long-time member of the state central committee,” claims that when he cast his ballot in the primary election last year he was “acutely aware of the importance of and responsibility of precinct committeemen and precinct committeewomen and cast his vote with the expectation that they would represent him and all of the registered Republican voters in his precinct.”

The complaint further states, “By allowing non-central committee members to vote, every Republican voter in Uinta County, including Mr. Micheli’s rights to representation on the county central committee were infringed.”

Eyre and Schuler, both elected members of the state legislature, claim an improperly held central committee election may also adversely impact them. “As members of the Wyoming State Legislature,” reads the suit, “the replacement of both of these positions, should a vacancy occur as defined by Wyo. Stat. 22-18-101, shall be made by the committeeman and committeewoman who reside within their precincts in their respective districts and relayed to the board of county commissioners by the State Central Committee.”

The suit goes on to list numerous occasions in which the State Central Committee has been involved in filling vacancies in government offices, including when U.S. Sen. John Barrasso first entered that position, when Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Buchanan was appointed to fill that position and when current Gov. Mark Gordon was originally appointed to his position as Wyoming State Treasurer. The suit claims that, given the important role of the Wyoming Republican Party State Central Committee as the dominant party in the state, it is crucial that the leadership elections in every county be conducted according to state law.

In a written joint statement to the Herald, Eyre and Schuler stated, “We have agreed to be plaintiffs in the lawsuit you mentioned because we believe that the Uinta County central committee leadership elections … were not held in accordance with state statutes. This is nothing personal regarding any current or former Republican committee members or leaders.”

“In conducting the elections … the party leadership relied upon the state and county bylaws to determine who is allowed to vote for the county leadership positions. These bylaws should not and cannot supersede state law, which clearly states that only precinct committeemen and committeewomen elected at the regular biennial primary election should vote in the election of county party officers.”

The statement concludes, “As elected officials in Uinta County, we have an important stake in ensuring that the state law is followed because, if we were unable to complete our terms of service for any reason, the county central committee would have the responsibility to recommend three candidates to the county commission. The county commission would then select one of those nominees to fill the unexpired term.”

Jackson, the current chair of the Uinta County Party, did not respond to a request for comment.