Feb 19, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff WriterH. Michael Bennett will take over as Fremont County Attorney on March 1. The Fremont County Commission appointed him to the post Tuesday afternoon.
A Cheyenne attorney originally from Lander, Bennett will finish out Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn's term through 2014. Varn is resigning.
Commissioners voted unanimously to pick Bennett over Fremont County deputy attorney Patrick Lebrun. The Fremont County Republican Party Feb. 13 designated Lebrun and Bennett its nominees to replace Varn.
Because Varn is a Republican, that party has a hand in picking his successor.
The local GOP also submitted Lander attorney Perry Marple as a formality to fill out the statutory three-name list. He did not want the office.
The commission interviewed Lebrun and Bennett individually at the Tuesday meeting. Marple did not interview.
Bennett, 39, is a 1992 Lander Valley High School graduate and works as a criminal defense lawyer in Wyoming's capital. He has served as staff attorney for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation and as a deputy prosecutor in Albany County.
LeBrun, 41, of Riverton, joined the Fremont County attorney's office in July 2009 after a seven-year stint in Casper with a private practice. He is a Wyoming native and 2002 graduate of the University of Wyoming College of Law.
Each candidate began with an opening statement, and Bennett described his passion for the job.
"I want to come home and make my community a better community. I want to use all the tools Fremont County gave me growing up and all the tools I acquired since I moved," Bennett said. "This is what they've told us in high school, go out, go better yourself, and come back and share with your community what has made you a better person."
Lebrun pointed to his support and experience.
"This is the time to point things out, so I will," Lebrun said. "I was the one ... who came forward for this. That should say something, that amongst the (county) lawyers no one's come forward to challenge me. They respect me; they support me."
Lebrun said he also he has strong relationships with local law enforcement an defense lawyers.
During his interview, Commissioner Stephanie Kessler Bennett asked how he would measure his success in three to five years.
"What I want to see this office doing is listening to what the community wants," Bennett said. "I want a county commission that's happy, that trusts the county attorney, that says when we go to Mr. Bennett we get a straight answer that's backed up by good law, and we know where we stand."
Commissioner Keja Whiteman asked Bennett how he would work with the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes.
"I think what we do is we reach out to the tribes, and not just say we want to listen to you, but get them to understand we truly want to help, to listen," Bennett replied. "If we can find middle ground and start from there, absolutely we can work through any problem."
Neither could claim extensive experience in administration, and both said they had not managed staffs of more than one.
Bennett said he has had a legal assistant or receptionist at all of his previous positions.
Similarly, Lebrun said he oversaw a secretary for seven years when he had a private practice.
"But what I can say I have been supervising the attorneys in the office, " Lebrun added. "I've been supervising the support staff, I've been monitoring work loads, monitoring work production."
Commissioners went into executive session after the public interviews to discuss the candidates.
After they came out, Commission chairman Doug Thompson said, "I'd like to say we had two very good interviews. We had two very good candidates."
Whiteman then moved to appoint Bennett, commissioner Larry Allen seconded the motion, and the county board unanimously voted "aye."
In an interview, Thompson said Lebrun had more experience working with Fremont County's legal system, but Bennett's demeanor stood out.
Thompson said, "The way he would approach issues in a broad way ... bringing people together and trying to work things out (were important)."
Thompson said commissioners thought their lack of administrative experience was a weakness for both nominees.
Once Bennett takes over the top attorney job, he and Lebrun will work in the same office.
In a discussion with commission chairman Travis Becker after the vote, Bennett said, "Certainly (Lebrun) is disappointed, but I think we can work together for the better of Fremont County."
Bennett will be sworn in as County Attorney on March 1.
Varn himself originally secured his office from a Commission appointment in April 2009 after county attorney Ed Newell resigned. Varn then ran unopposed in the November 2010 election, garnering a four-year term.
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