GILLETTE, Wyo.—The room buzzed with excitement as elected officials, friends, family, and onlookers alike mingled at the Campbell County Courthouse on Friday, April 8.
At the doors, District Court Judge Matthew Castano, a middle-aged man with kind eyes and a ready smile, shook hands warmly as the courtroom filled steadily with attendees, leaving minimal vacancies and latecomers no choice but to stand in line along the back wall.
As the morning hour drew nearer to 10 a.m., Castano made his way to the front of the room and approached the bench, joining Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, Circuit Court Judge Paul S. Phillips, and Wyoming Bar Association President Ken Barbe.
“All rise,” a court clerk commanded. Her voice carried effortlessly from the front row to the back wall, drawing every person present to their feet as, one by one, the members of the Wyoming Supreme Court filed into the room.
They took their seat, followed by everyone else who could, and all eyes turned towards Castano, who was recently appointed by Gordon and there to be sworn in before the Wyoming Supreme Court as the newest District Court Judge for the Sixth Judicial District.
Laughter could be heard echoing in the halls of the Campbell County Courthouse as Wyoming Supreme Court Chief Justice Kate Fox paused while introducing her fellow justices to lock eyes with Castano, who had taken a seat next to Justice John Fenn.
“You’re not supposed to be up here yet,” she scolded with a smile and Castano leaped up to take a seat opposite Gordon, Phillips, and Barbe, adding his own laughter to the mix.
Throughout the entire ceremony, that mirth barely had a moment’s rest as joke after joke flew from the mouths of scheduled speakers, pausing only when each speaker publicly voiced their support of Castano and expressed their belief in his ability to do the job of a District Court judge well.
“I’m so very happy for you, Matt, I’m so proud of you,” Phillips smiled. “And I want everyone here to know that it warms my heart to watch you squirm.”
His joke concluded, Phillips took a moment to set the record straight regarding his opinion of Castano’s appointment a District Court Judge, a position that he too had sought and had been named a finalist.
“Governor, you made the right choice,” Phillips said. “He’s a great Circuit Court judge, he’s a great human being, and he’s going to be an outstanding District Court Judge.”
The job of a District Court judge, he continued, requires women and men of intellect, confidence, character, life experience, and compassion.
“If you don’t know it already, I’ll tell you now that Matt Castano is more than up to the job,” Phillips said, praising Castano’s ability to render unwelcome rulings in high-stakes cases in such a way that person could be evicted from their home but still leave the courtroom with a smile on their face.
“There are people that you meet in life that have a profound impact upon you, people that leave a mark, and Matt Castano is that kind of man,” Phillips said, adding that while he didn’t know how to describe him perfectly, he could say that he feels comfort in Castano’s presence and an emptiness in his absence.
Barbe praised Castano’s past as an attorney where he spent over a decade in Laramie where his work on domestic cases and divorces earned him the reputation as one of the best attorneys for those subjects in Wyoming.
Those types of cases not only call on a lawyer’s courtroom skills and legal knowledge, but it also calls on a lawyer’s skills as a counselor, a mediator, and a psychologist.
“And [Castano] is bringing all of those skills to the District Court bench in the Sixth Judicial District not only in the domestic relation cases but in every case that will come before him,” Barbe said.
Castano brings a lot of common sense to the bench, Barbe continued, and has a good head for rationality and practicality.
“He understands that the person before him is not defined just by the circumstances of their appearance,” Barbe said, adding that Castano’s ability to relate to people and situations allows those in his court to feel relaxed and comfortable in situations that are often unfamiliar.
Of his decision to select Castano, Gordon said that his office took the task very seriously that every applicant was phenomenal and well qualified for the job and that his decision was one of the most difficult he’s ever had to make.
The judicial system is the place where judgments must be made, Gordon said, and they must be made with compassion, courtesy, courage, and the conviction that one knows what’s right.
Castano, speaking last moments before donning the new ceremonial black robe that would mark him as a District Court judge, smiled and said that he’d rather be working right then.
“It’s what I do, it’s what I love to do, and it’s what I have the privilege of doing,” he said and took several moments to thank members of his family for their support and guidance over the years.
He thanked his former colleagues, and the multiple clerks that, Castano said, make everything in Circuit Court run smoothly.
“I have never been part of a better group. I have never been part of a group that supports one another more fully,” Castano said. “I’ve never been part of a group that has a better sense of cheer. They are the best colleagues that I’ve ever had. They’re dedicated and they’re practical. They deal with human beings every day, sometimes on short notice and sometimes on short information. They get the job done. Circuit Court gets things done.”
In closing, he referenced a simple question posed to him by a woman he had sentenced with a felony whose eyes lit up as she asked him “Have you made your daily wish?”
Castano said that he wasn’t going to pretend to understand what that simple question meant to that woman, but he’s thought about it ever since and what it means to him.
“What are you going to do with today? What do you want from today? Get up every morning and make something of that day. Push the ball forward; if it’s an inch, it’s an inch further than it was the day before and that’s my daily task,” Castano said.
To those wondering what his judicial philosophy would be moving into District Court, Castano had only these words:
“Show up, work hard, be you. That is the most and the least that anyone can expect of someone holding a public office. If I do that each and every day, I will have been successful.”