It is said that a good mentor is someone who feels invested in the success of his mentee. The Honorable W. Thomas Sullins definitely fits that description. Little did he know, in 1996, that he was mentoring the future judge who would fill his position when he retires from the bench on January 7, 2019. Judge-select Kerri Johnson served as a law clerk in the 7th Judicial District (Natrona County) 22 years ago, and upon her recent appointment by the Governor, commented, “It is incredibly humbling to follow in the footsteps of my mentor, Judge Sullins.” Judicial Assistant, Kelly Hunt, and Court Reporter, Joni Chaney, confirmed that the judge “. . . is a mentor in the truest sense of the word. He’s mentored law students, recent law school graduates and young people in general.” This commitment typifies the contributions that Judge Sullins has offered the judiciary for almost a quarter century of distinguished service as one of three district court judges in Natrona County.
Judge Sullins graduated from the U.W. College of Law in 1974. He served as a Deputy Natrona County and Prosecuting Attorney for 5 years, joined the law firm of Brown & Drew in Casper for 16 years, and was then appointed as a District Court Judge in 1995. Judge Sullins’ passion for the law has been demonstrated over the years through his avid participation in endeavors that promote education about the judiciary and the government. Kelly and Joni offered evidence of that attribute: “Judge Sullins makes it a priority each year to volunteer for the University of Wyoming Summer Trial Institute, and he also takes great pleasure in being a volunteer judge for the annual We the People competition—of which he attended the National Finals in Washington, D.C. in April of 2016. For several years he taught an evening class on Constitutional Rights and Liberties for the University of Wyoming/Casper College. There is never a question he doesn’t attempt to answer and then follow up with ‘that’s a good question.’” Judge Sullins has a particular appreciation for people who fulfill their civic duty serving as jurors. Knowing the public sometimes feels that serving in that capacity is a thankless job, Kelly and Joni commented that “During trials, Judge Sullins is always concerned with minimizing [the jurors’] waiting time and making sure they feel valued. After every trial, he takes time to thank them for their service and offers a quote from Judge Nancy Guthrie or Justice Robert H. Jackson, who he claims can better express the gratitude he feels.” Two other areas they mentioned Judge Sullins feels strongly about are juvenile matters and adoptions. “In juvenile matters, he often conveys the story about the connection he made with a young girl in juvenile court who invited him to her graduation from medical school. Judge Sullins looks forward to adoptions, as they are one of the few positive tasks he gets to preside over. From the judges’ school in Reno he brought back the idea of giving a teddy bear to the child who’s being adopted as a way to help them remember how special their parents are.”
Some of the professional honors that Judge Sullins has received during his career are: graduation from the Harvard Law School’s Program of Instruction for Lawyers, admission to the Supreme Court of the United States, and his selection as a Judge Associate with the American Board of Trial Advocates.
“Judge Sullins has not only been a ‘lawyer’s lawyer,’ but also a role model for his fellow district judges,” commented Chief Justice Michael Davis. “His piercing intellect, infinite patience and courtesy, and his incredible work ethic lead have caused both lawyers and judges to aspire to a higher standard, much to the betterment of the bench and bar. He will be sorely missed in retirement, and I hope he will continue to share his experiences and insights with law students, lawyers, and judges around the state. We wish him the best.”