Weichman’s done prosecuting

January 9, 2019

Steve Weichman was summoned to court last week to face 75 or more people who accused him of being a great guy and a superb county attorney.

Weichman pleaded not guilty.

At least not guilty to being any kind of legal genius.

“I’m not worthy of any of this,” he said.

Teton County’s retiring top lawyer instead diminished his accomplishments and thanked the courthouse crowd for their work and for giving him a chance that everyone wants, “to know that your life is worth something.”

“This job has been, literally, a gift from God for me,” he said. “It has enabled me to serve the community in a meaningful way, it has enabled me to strive and struggle for justice.”

Even after 29 years with the county attorney’s office — from 1989 to 1996 as chief deputy prosecutor, briefly as appointed county attorney and then five terms elected to the office — Weichman said his path to a career in law was a bit accidental and that as he leaves office he feels that “I’m not a great lawyer.”

“I don’t find that when I wake up in the morning that being a lawyer is the first thing that crosses my mind,” he said. “I probably should not have been a lawyer.”

Those in the court last week, though, were glad Weichman’s career turned out as it did.

Teton County Circuit Court Judge Jim Radda, who worked as a county deputy with Weichman, said Weichman “was adamant that we always do the right thing, and that made things a lot easier.”

Radda praised Weichman for refusing to be “judgmental or punitive” in his enforcement of the law.

“The trademark of your style was compassion, and there’s not enough of that today,” he said.

Andy Pearson, a longtime Jackson police investigator, agreed with that assessment.

“It’s easy to always be 100 percent on the side of the victim, but Steve never lost sight of the fact that the suspect is a person, too,” Pearson said.

Weichman said he learned early from his boss, Tim Day, now Ninth District Court judge, that it was easy to be carried away by the job: “It’s amazing how quickly you fall into the role of prosecutor,” Weichman said.

But he quickly realized that “the people who are in trouble with the law aren’t that much different than the rest of us, for the most part.”

And, he said, “I learned that when you maybe give someone a second chance ... people frequently read about those cases in the newspaper and they end up in my office demanding ‘How could you do that?’

“Those same people, almost every time, end up a year later, two years later, in trouble, or their son is in trouble, or their spouse or their next-door neighbor or their good friend from the Elks Club, and they’re in here pounding on your desk trying to convince you those people are not like other criminals.”

The challenge, Weichman said, was to know that “there are evil people” but that not everyone in trouble is the same, that “we all are one bad decision away from being in trouble with the law. The law is an impossibly demanding mistress that can never be pleased.”

Weichman was also praised for his loyalty and generosity to his staff and the other law enforcement people he worked with.

Teton County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Clark Allan said Weichman was “selfless” in dealing with others.

“Steve’s work the whole time he’s been here has been about other people, never for himself,” he said.

Radda, noting the political aspect of enforcing the law, said Weichman was “incredibly loyal” to his staff, and in cases where there was outside pressure in a case “you shielded me, you took the heat.”

Weichman was also noted for his eloquence.

Day said that “in a closing argument you could string more metaphors together than you could shake a stick at.”

Former county deputy Armand “Frenchie” Cadol said Weichman always had “the right word for the right thing at the right time.”

Weichman was born in Casper. As a young man he worked as a cowboy, dude-ranch wrangler, carpenter and in the oilfields. He graduated from Western Washington University in 1981 with a degree in environmental sciences and a minor in geology. He’s known for a devotion to fishing — a retirement gift was a new rod and reel — and for a propensity for explaining to friends the rocks they come across while fishing, hiking and road tripping.

He applied to law school at the University of Wyoming, he said, without much enthusiasm, and met his acceptance with an “are you serious?” phone call to verify the letter.

He worked briefly for Gerry Spence while studying for the bar exam. After graduating, he said, he wasn’t enjoying his new career when he was hired to be the second person in county attorney Day’s two-person staff. Day said he “immediately promoted Steve to chief deputy prosecuting attorney since there was no other position to be had.”

Weichman and his wife, Cynthia, have three grown daughters.

Weichman, 60, said he isn’t sure what’s next. He said some lawyering, private or public, may come his way; he has a son-in-law who works in the oil fields and might find work for him; he also said he’s considered seminary.

“I’m interested in doing something different,” he said.

Weichman worried there might be other work to satisfy him and he might not know what it is without looking.

“We don’t know how many days we have,” he said.

Though he needs a change, Weichman said it will be odd not to be going to the same office to do the same work with the same people. From now on, he said, he’ll no longer be an insider at the courthouse, and “I’ll have to go through security and put my keys in the tray” to get in the building.

On Monday Erin Weisman took over as Teton County prosecuting attorney.

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