Judge Zebre to retire after nearly 35 years

GAZETTE PHOTO/ Theresa Davis

Circuit Court Judge Frank J. Zebre is retiring from the Third Judicial District. Zebre was appointed in July 1984.  “When people come to this courtroom, you never know what happened in their lives before that brought them to this point,” Zebre said.

A lot can happen in a courtroom in 35 years, and Circuit Court Third Judicial District Judge Frank Zebre has witnessed it all. Zebre is retiring May 1, after nearly 35 years as a judge. He was appointed to the bench by Governor Ed Herschler in July 1984.

Zebre said his career has taught him the importance of patience.

“It sounds cliché for a judge to say ‘don’t judge others,’ but when people come to this courtroom, you never know what happened in their lives before that brought them to this point.”

Zebre is a Kemmerer native whose ancestors came to the community to mine coal. After graduating from Kemmerer High, Zebre attended college and law school at the University of Wyoming, then ended up back in Kemmerer.

“I had a cousin at college who was going to take the LSAT, and I decided to take it, too,” Zebre said. “I did well enough to get into law school, but I really had no preconceived notions of becoming a lawyer or judge. It worked out and has been a great career.” 

Zebre said the best advice he could give to other judges or lawyers is to always be prepared.

“I always have to come in here anticipating issues,” Zebre said. “I don’t fly by the seat of my pants. I know I will hear compelling arguments from good attorneys.”

The long-time judge said he has enjoyed his career in the justice system.

“I think my demeanor is more suitable for a judge than a lawyer,” Zebre said. “I’m not aggressive, not an advocate; what I really get to do is rule and make decisions. I’m appreciative to the citizens of Lincoln County for letting me do this for such a long time. I’ve enjoyed serving the public.”

Zebre said that, as a judge, he is invested in the successes and shortcomings of the individuals that appear before him in court, especially participants of the drug court program. 

“I get to help people,” Zebre said. “Sometimes they will come back and tell me ‘you really helped me’ or ‘you really helped my son get back on track after a terrible situation.’ That has been rewarding.”

Zebre also reflected on the challenges of his judicial career.

“The reality is that you can’t make decisions for people; it’s up to them. You learn how not to take it home,” Zebre said.

“People who come to this court are not terrible people,” Zebre continued. “They’ve just made some bad choices and might not have been given the opportunities that some of us have.”

The judge said he has seen Lincoln County change through the decades.

“It used to be that the majority of the cases came from here in the south of the county,” Zebre said. “But now the population center has flipped and the majority come from the north of the county.”

When asked what he looked forward to in retirement, Zebre joked about freedom from the “shackles of employment” and being on call 24/7 for things like approving search warrants.

“I’m excited to spend time in the mountains and the streams hunting and fishing,” Zebre said. “I will also spend time with family and do some traveling.”

Zebre’s colleagues expressed appreciation for his work as a judge and in the community. 

“Judge Zebre has been a great judge and a great person to work for,” said Stacy Batista, chief clerk for Lincoln County circuit court. “He’s the only judge I’ve known here, and I’ve been here 21 years.”

Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Davis remarked on Judge Zebre’s service.

“Judge’s Zebre’s service to the state of Wyoming has been truly remarkable,” Davis said. “He has been a steady and impartial judge who treats all who appear before him with courtesy and respect, and lawyers comment that he is always the most prepared person in the courtroom.

“From the day he started until the day he leaves the bench, he will have given every case and litigant that comes before him his undivided attention and best efforts,” Davis continued. “He has set a high bar for those who will succeed him. He will be sorely missed, and the attorneys and citizens of his district and the state of Wyoming owe him an immense debt of gratitude for his many years of faithful service.  We wish him the best in retirement.”

Governor Mark Gordon will appoint the Third Judicial District Circuit Court Judge from a list of three names submitted to him by the Judicial Nominating Commission.

Zebre said Gov. Gordon has until the end of April to make a decision. 

To serve as a circuit court judge, one must be a qualified elector of the state, and authorized to practice law in Wyoming.