Election Matchup: Fremont County Attorney (Part two)

Jul 24, 2014 By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Both candidates in the closely watched Fremont County Attorney race, Michael Bennett and Pat LeBrun, addressed their views on sentencing, the Environmental Protection Agency's decision in December regarding the Wind River Indian Reservation's boundaries and other issues.

Patrick Lebrun

- Lives in Riverton

- 42 years old

- Working in private practice

- Deputy Fremont County Attorney for four years, Chief Deputy County Attorney for one year

- Private practice for seven years in Casper

- Law degree from University of Wyoming

- Bachelor's degree in Administration of Justice, UW

Views on ... sentencing

LeBrun said he would seek tougher penalties for criminals, especially in violent crimes.

"We need to hand down more severe punishments than we've been handing down for the last year or so," LeBrun said. "When we're talking of some of the brutality, murder, some of the actually extreme violence, we have to just put them away because we can't risk them doing it again."

He thinks second-degree murder is misunderstood.

"Beating someone to death, even if you didn't necessarily intend someone to die, that can be second-degree murder in Wyoming," LeBrun said.

He said he was speaking in general terms, but the description resembles the Rails to Trails case. In that case, Bennett decided to lower the charges from second-degree murder to manslaughter.

As chief deputy attorney overseeing the county attorney's Riverton office for more than a year while Bennett was in office, LeBrun was involved in resolutions to several violent-crime cases that he criticizes.

"I provided my legal assistance as a lawyer, but the county attorney, ultimately it was his decision," LeBrun said. "What I'm saying if it was my decision, if these had been my decision, I would have done things differently."

Views on ... EPA's decision on Wind River Indian Reservation boundary

"I will represent the county's interest in the EPA litigation, I'm a Riverton resident, so I live within the area that the EPA has said is within the Wind River Indian Reservation," LeBrun said. "I believe that ... the county itself needs to make sure we are engaged in that litigation so that any decisions that are made, we have a say so."

Views on ... advising commissioners

"One of the commissioners ... commented that the county shouldn't enter into litigation (over the EPA decision), and she gave the reason that we don't need to get the lawyers involved, we just need to sit down and talk.," LeBrun said. "That bothered me because at that time the lawsuit had already been filed. You don't get a say so unless you join the lawsuit.

"It's the county attorney's responsibility to educate her on legal issues. Clearly Mike Bennett failed on that. Her political view is one thing but she was mistaken on the law."

Views on ... increasing federal regulations

"When it affects Fremont County, and Fremont County has legal standing yes (the county attorney should take action), and the case in point is the EPA ruling county has standing, if they join the litigation," LeBrun said.

Michael Bennett

- Lives in Lander

- 40 years old

- Fremont County Attorney since March 2013 appointment

- Worked as deputy county attorney in Albany County, as a staff attorney at Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and in private practice

- Law degree from University of Wyoming

- Bachelor's and master's degree in Spanish, UW

Views on ... sentencing

Bennett said he stands by all the decisions he has made in office and disagreed with LeBrun's characterizations.

"That's the exclusive province of the judicial branch to actually sentence people ... To say the sentences were light --there's a whole separate branch of government that gets to weigh in on the sentences," he said.

Bennett explained his process for resolving cases.

"As a county attorney you not only need to know your judge but you need to have a good sense of what a jury would do with a case --they determine guilty or not guilty," he said. "What we try to do in difficult cases, such as the Rails to Trails case, is we presented a plea agreement that gave the judicial branch an extraordinary amount of discretion in sentencing."

In that case, Bennett argued for 18 to 20 years in prison for both defendants after deciding to lower the charge, but they received 12 to 18 years.

"Most of the time the state gets something close to what it argues for, but a lot of times the state's arguments are tempered by what the defense says," Bennett said.

Views on ... EPA's decision on Wind River Indian Reservation boundary

Bennett said he could not comment on an open case in which he is engaged.

"The only thing I can say is we are involved in the EPA case to represent the interests of Fremont County as directed by the county commissioners," he said. "My role in that is to represent the commissioners on behalf of the county."

Views on ... advising commissioners

LeBrun was not in a position to criticize how he advised the commission, Bennett said.

"I find it interesting (LeBrun) comments on things he was not a part of and jumps to such broad conclusions," Bennett said. "I'm not going to discuss what happens in executive session, and I know what happens in executive session is not made available to anyone in the public, including Mr. LeBrun."

Fremont County commissioners met with Bennett in an executive session to discuss the litigation before voting 3-2 on March 4 to join the case involving the EPA.

"So his assumptions are not fact, they are merely assumptions," Bennett said.

Views on ... increasing federal regulations

"We certainly want to protect our Fremont County values, but as far as a role in that it would have to be a county issue, and we would have to represent the county," Bennett said.

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