The Wyoming State Bar Board of Professional Responsibility says the disciplinary hearing of former Teton County deputy prosecutor Becket Hinckley should be open to the press and public, like a regular court hearing.
Hinckley’s attorneys disagree and have appealed the board’s decision to keep the hearing closed to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
“There is nothing in the record of this matter that is of a confidential nature such as to warrant the closing of the hearing,” board Chair Jeffrey Donnell wrote in his July 17 decision, “especially given the fact that the specifics of the case and the allegations against Mr. Hinckley are already available to the public.”
Donnell said the Board of Professional Responsibility “finds no compelling reason to bar the public or the press” from the hearing, which was set to begin Tuesday in Casper.
It has since been delayed because of the appeal.
On Monday, Hinckley’s attorney Stephen Kline filed a petition arguing the hearing should be confidential.
“The Wyoming Rules of Civil Procedure and the Wyoming Rules of Evidence do not address under what circumstances hearings are public,” Kline wrote, “Significantly, Wyoming Rules of Disciplinary Procedure, Rule 15(b)(3)(E) provides that the Hearing Panel may issue a finding of private reprimand. The right to a private reprimand cannot be squared with a hearing that is open to the public.”
The arguments come after the Jackson Hole News&Guide inquired about attending the hearing in order to cover it. The News&Guide has covered the allegations brought by the bar against Hinckley and covered the criminal case from which his misconduct allegations stem.
The Wyoming State Bar brought a formal charge against Hinckley last year, alleging several counts of prosecutorial misconduct during an aggravated assault case against Josh Black, whose conviction was reversed in 2017 by the Wyoming Supreme Court.
One of the allegations against Hinckley is that he didn’t comply with the Teton County District Court’s order to get Facebook and Verizon records related to the assault case.
In the high court’s ruling they wrote:
“At the hearing on the discovery motion the district court asked the prosecutor: “So you’re going to attempt to comply with that request to the extent that it’s reasonably possible to do so?” The prosecutor replied: “Absolutely.” The district court’s order on discovery was explicit: “The state shall exercise due diligence to obtain the requested information and shall promptly request the information from Facebook and Verizon Wireless and provide it to defendant’s counsel.” Despite the clear language of the order the state offers no justification for that failure. There is indication in the record that it would not have been difficult for the state to make that request.
A rule change in 2019 doesn’t address whether attorney disciplinary hearings are open or closed, Kline wrote in his petition. He said such hearings are public in some states and closed in others.
The Wyoming Supreme Court hasn’t issued a ruling. The Wyoming State Bar is preparing a response that’s due Aug. 11.