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GOP picks three for Varn vacancy
Cheyenne-based criminal defense attorney H. Michael Bennett, left, and Fremont County deputy attorney Pat LeBrun spoke during a public meeting Wednesday at the Fremont County Courthouse in Lander. The two are vying to fill Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn's position. Photo by Christina George

GOP picks three for Varn vacancy

Feb 14, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

The Fremont County Commission has the final say on who will replace the departing Fremont County Attorney.

The Fremont County Republican Party on Wednesday approved three names to submit to the Fremont County Commission for considered in the appointment of a new county attorney.

The finalists are Fremont County deputy attorney Pat LeBrun, Cheyenne-based criminal defense attorney H. Michael Bennett and Lander attorney Perry Marple.

Marple was added to the list as a formality because state statute requires three names be submitted to the county board.

The slate was approved unanimously.

Fremont County Attorney Brian Varn is vacating the elected position effective Feb. 28. Because he is a member of the Republican Party, his successor must belong to the GOP.

Party chairman John Birbari told the more than 40 attendees at the Feb. 13 meeting this is the fifth time in 15 or 16 years the county GOP has had to find a replacement for an elected office because of a vacancy between elections. The list includes a previous sheriff, a state representative and a state senator. Varn secured the county attorney position in a similar fashion nearly four years ago when Ed Newell resigned from office.

Commissioners are expected to interview candidates at their Feb. 19 meeting before making the appointment. The individual selected will carry out the remainder of Varn's term through 2014.

The candidates

The hour-long meeting at the Fremont County Courthouse in Lander gave LeBrun and Bennett a chance to tell other party members about themselves and answer questions from the audience.

"I am very well qualified," LeBrun said. "The Fremont County Attorney has a very important job. ... And the county attorney has real work to do tomorrow."

Bennett believes he is the person for the job.

"I came from Cheyenne today to tell you why I'm the perfect man to be the next Fremont County Attorney," Bennett said.

LeBrun, who announced his intention to seek the spot the day Varn formally submitted his resignation letter, said he is qualified to be the next county attorney because he has familiarity with the office. LeBrun has been a prosecutor in Fremont County for nearly four years.

"I know the workload train doesn't stop so someone can get on it," he said. "The county attorney doesn't have time to learn the job."

LeBrun noted his "excellent rapport" with the office's attorneys and staff and his working relationship with local law enforcement. He said he began learning about the position several months ago when Varn said he would be leaving the job due to family obligations.

Bennett is a 1992 Lander Valley High School graduate. His post-graduation years included time in Mexico and the Dominican Republic. After law school, his first job involved working with indigent people on civil matters. He then served as staff attorney for the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation. He was also a deputy prosecutor in Albany County.

"I can hit the ground running," Bennett told the crowd. "If given the opportunity, I would serve Fremont County well, and I am the man to do it."

Audience questions

Meeting attendees had a chance to ask candidates questions, with topics of interest ranging from the men's philosophical views to their experience in the field.

LeBrun estimated he has handled 25 jury trials, and Bennett said he has covered about 20.

When asked about projects he would like to undertake, LeBrun said the office is working to convert to a paperless system. He also plans to continue Varn's work in revamping the local juvenile justice system.

Bennett agreed that both projects are important.

An attendee asked LeBrun how he would handle supervising attorneys who were friends.

"Mr. Varn has done a fantastic job lining this office with very mature, professional attorneys," LeBrun answered.

He added he has been in the supervising role for several months and believes he has the respect of the attorneys.

Another attendee asked about ideas to make the court process speedier.

Bennett said he has learned that having a good relationship with a prosecutor and finding "middle ground" with the defense can help.

LeBrun said it's not always easy to speed things up because of the "massive amount of litigation, and everyone has a right to their day in court."

"We've got it down to about six months," he said about closing a case.

He added the office currently has 120 active felony cases, but about 115 of those probably will be settled before going to trial.

Regarding jurisdictional issues with the Wind River Indian Reservation, LeBrun said he plans to become a member of the tribal bar. He also intends to make sure tribal leaders know they can call him, something he learned from Varn.

"As a county attorney, you have to reach out," Bennett agreed. "You actually have to listen to them, not just say it."

Bennett said he would run the office with honesty and commitment to the community in mind.

"I will serve all of you," he said. "It's about me serving this community."

LeBrun said his priority would be to protect the community effectively and efficiently at the lowest cost possible to taxpayers.

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