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Bumpy month in county attorney's office leaves rebuilding job under way

May 19, 2014 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

The recent termination of a Fremont County deputy attorney marks the second time in as many months a prosecutor has left the County Attorney's Office.

One position has already been filled, but the outgoing attorneys take with them several years of experience.

Fremont County Attorney Michael Bennett fired three-year veteran of the office Ember Oakley on May 9. The first vacancy arose in April when former chief deputy county attorney Patrick LeBrun resigned in to run for the office of Fremont County Attorney himself against Bennett.

Bennett declined to comment on Oakley's termination, saying he does not speak about personnel issues.

In an interview, Oakley said the County Attorney said he was firing her for mishandling a case. Oakley said she offered a plea agreement to a Dubois man charged with selling and cooking meth.

In a May 8 hearing, Bennett said the deal in that case did not follow his office's policies. Oakley, in the interview, asserted she was terminated actually because she has spoken in public in support of LeBrun and against Bennett.

"This is retaliation for my speech, and for my position," she said.

Bennett also declined to comment on his office's policies regarding plea agreements while the meth case from Dubois is open.

Lost experience

LeBrun served in the Fremont County Attorney's Office for four years and most recently headed the Riverton office. Before then, he worked in private practice for seven years.

The loss of two veterans was a blow to his office, but Bennett said his staff could overcome it.

"You lose the institutional experience, but new attorneys can come in and pick it up, and I believe in putting people in the right position. We'll be running at full speed before we know it," he said.

He already moved to fill those positions by hiring Bob Rose, of Cheyenne, to fill the chief deputy position last week.

Rose has 30 years of experience as a trial lawyer, Bennett said, and will run the Riverton office.

The Fremont County Attorney's Office normally has seven attorneys, including the elected official. Being short staffed has caused issues, but the prosecutors have been able to cope, Bennett said.

"It causes an increase in caseload, but everyone seems to be handling it well," Bennett said.

Both vacancies are on the Riverton side of the attorney's office, though any of its prosecutors can handle cases from any part of the county.

Plea bargain

The plea agreement at issue was in the case of Trampes Frank Rivers.

Under the deal, Rivers pleaded guilty to one charge of selling methamphetamine in exchange for having one charge for cooking meth dropped.

The agreement at the hearing stipulated a penalty of five to 10 years in prison suspended in favor of five years probation and gave Rivers an unsecured bond.

The original charges carried a penalty of probation up to 45 years in prison.

Bennett said the agreement was offered by one of his deputies, and though it did not follow his office's policies, he felt obligated to honor it once it was on the table.

In an interview, Oakley denied that she violated any policy in offering the agreement and said the agreement she offered to Trampes "contemplated some jail time" but decline to elaborate.

In an odd development, Oakley said a Facebook profile she believes to be fake has made "underhanded" comments online. The profile used the name Gertie Urdicthe and commented online on May 8 that Oakley was the deputy attorney who offered the plea agreement to Rivers, putting the blame on her.

In a hearing that day, Bennett did not identify which deputy offered it and later declined to comment on the agreement be-cause the case was still open.

Bennett denied any connection to the online account.

"I didn't set it up, it's not mine, I have no idea," he said.

"As far as what possible connection there would be to me, people can speculate all they want, but it's not me. It's not my profile, and I didn't set it up."

Facts point to Urditche not being real. The account had been deleted by May 16, and cached versions of it show a dog in the profile picture.

Telephone directories covering Fremont County also do not have anyone with the last name Urditche.