Judge adjusts to park life

 

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS, WYO. — United States Magistrate Judge Mark Carman, based  in Yellowstone National Park, is only the fifth to hold the position since its inception by an act of Congress in 1894. 

The court is busier in the summer months, Carman said Tuesday. He sees cases involving alcohol and marijuana, as well as natural resource cases — violations such as picking flowers, leaving boardwalks or taking samples out of thermal features.

These “resource” cases usually involve tourists, mostly out of ignorance of the law or a language barrier, Carman said.

The court held 556 hearings in 2013, the judge said, including three cases involving tourists discharging firearms in the park. 

One case was a man who accidentally discharged a gun in his cabin — twice. One shot went through the wall into an adjoining cabin.

In a second case, a man hiking on the Mount Washburn trail near Canyon Village opened fire on a grizzly bear. 

The third was the tragedy at the Grant Village Campground this summer, when police said a  3-year-old child accidentally shot herself. 

On Tuesday afternoon, Carman heard a case involving a repeat offender driving under a suspended driver’s license. He sentenced him to about four months in jail, reluctantly.

“I try to help people out of these holes,” he said. 

Lifestyle

Carman said it was an adjustment moving from Billings, with a population of around 100,000, to Mammoth Hot Springs, with about 300 people. His favorite thing about the area is the residents he meets.

“The quality of the people in this community is off the charts,” he said. “They’re intelligent, enthusiastic and delightful.”  

And he loves the outdoor lifestyle, getting in a lot of fishing in the summer evenings. 

His position comes with a house in the Mammoth area. Carman and his dog, Raider, a border collie, like to go for a walk in the dark sometimes. Raider is adjusting to life on a leash, which is mandatory in Yellowstone, and he’s not too happy about it, Carman said. Both Carman and Raider have learned to watch for wildlife when they walk in the dark. 

Carman has seen elk and bears from his house, and has had to learn to watch for elk when he’s heading from his house to his car. 

A bull snake lives under his front porch. It keeps the Uinta ground squirrel population under control, he laughs. 

Carman is also a private pilot and keeps his own plane. It’s still in Billings, but when he brings it to Gardiner, he’ll be able to fly it to the other federal courts, located in Cheyenne and Casper, when he is needed there. He estimates he can make it to Casper in about an hour. 

And the plane has a name: Atticus, named for his favorite fictional lawyer, Atticus Finch, from “To Kill A Mockingbird.” 

The judge has explored Livingston, too, enjoying the shops and restaurants as well as attending church here. 

Background

Carman, 57, has an undergraduate degree in hydrology from Colorado State University and a law degree from the University of Wyoming. He worked as a prosecuting attorney for D.A. offices in Casper, Wyo., and California, later moving to Billings. 

He applied for the magistrate judge position when he saw it advertised last year. The previous judge, Stephen Cole, retired in May 2012 after serving 31 years. He died just six months after retiring, Carman said. 

Carman said he had always been interested in being a magistrate judge, and he and his wife, Nancy, and their three daughters always enjoyed visiting Yellowstone. 

Carman jokes his wife was more interested in the move than he was. 

And their youngest daughter was finishing high school in Billings and heading for college. He wouldn’t have applied if that hadn’t been the case, he said. 

Judgeship

The magistrate judge position was created as part of the Lacey Act, which created the laws, penalties and  enforcement mechanisms for protecting Yellowstone National Park’s unique resources.

The magistrate court is overseen by the federal district court based in Wyoming. The court handles misdemeanors and some civil matters, as well as some pre-trial hearings in felonies. Carman also serves as needed in other federal courtrooms, based in Casper and Cheyenne, Wyo.

Four judges held the judgeship in the 118 years from 1894 to 2012. The first, Judge John Meldrum, served 41 years. What is it about the Yellowstone position that judges remain it so long?

Carman has a theory. 

“It’s such a pleasant place to live. If you retire, you have to move away,” he said.

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Liz Kearney may be reached at communitynews@livent.net.