This sounds like a piece of Old West fiction.
A circuit judge travels empty stretches of Nevada. In county seats where the Earps once lived, she’s quick with her gavel and her voice; she also packs a pistol.
But this is true and it’s nowadays. Judge Kim Wanker has been nicknamed The Hammer; now Reba McEntire (shown here) stars in a vibrant cable movie (8 p.m. Jan. 7 and 10:03 p.m. Jan. 8) with that name.
“She is quite the character,” McEntire said of the real judge. “She’s amazing. She’s strong. Little, bitty gal. But what she does and how she stands up to people who have done other people wrong; she makes it all fair.”
Wanker, about 60, was appointed in 2011 to a judgeship that spans an area the size of West Virginia. “She does live in her truck,” McEntire said. “It’s a pop-up tent thing on the back and she pretty much loves to be outside, sleep under the stars.”
It’s a cowboy-type life, on a turf that fits. One county seat (Tonopah, population 2,170) is where Wyatt Earp once ran a saloon; another (Goldfield, with just 225 people, barely half its population 20 years ago) is where Virgil Earp, a deputy sheriff and Wyatt’s older brother, died.
That’s natural turf for McEntire, 67, who grew up on an Oklahoma ranch and competed in rodeos, before becoming a country-music star. She also seems at ease playing a judge.
“Legally, I get to be very bossy,” she said. “In real life, I’m bossy; anybody can tell you that.”
Rex Linn, her significant other, nodded in agreement, then detoured. “She’s never bossy,” he claimed. “Never.”
Added Melissa Peterman, her co-star: “I don’t think she’s bossy. I think she knows what she wants and I think she tells us.”
She also surrounds herself with people she likes. Linn, 66, played her mate in a “Big Sky” story arc and plays a wealthy suspect here; Peterman was her nemesis/friend in “Reba” and is her sister here.
“We’ve known each other since ‘91,” McEntire said of Linn, who’s also on “Young Sheldon” as George’s boss, the principal. “We first worked together on the Kenny Rogers ‘Gambler’ movie, (And) I’ve worked with Melissa since 2001.”
Now they were together in Canada, with a second unit adding brief glimpses of Nevada.
That’s the turf Wanker has ruled with quickness on the road – she’s known for high speeds when rushing between courthouses – and on the bench.
Still, this isn’t an old-time, hang-’em-all judge. One source said she has close to a 50-per cent acquittal rate, compared to 90 per cent for some conservative judges.
That’s a trait that echoes in this fictional version, renamed Kim Wheeler. “She’s tough and she’s fierce when she needs to be,” Peterman said, “but she’s also got a heart.”