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Bennett takes office, sets goals in county attorney's department

Mar 12, 2013 - By Christina George, Staff Writer

New Fremont County Attorney H. Michael Bennett has found his first days on the job full of activity.

"It's not dull," he said.

Bennett, 39, was sworn in to office March 1 after the Fremont County Commission appointed him to replace Brian Varn, who resigned for family obligations. He will serve the remainder of Varn's term, which is up for re-election in November 2014.

"I wanted to come home," Bennett said about why he sought the position. "Having grown up here, I know what a tremendous community it is."

Bennett was born and raised in Lander and is a 1992 Lander Valley High School graduate.

"I hope to use what I learned outside of Fremont County to see Fremont County continue to be a good place to raise your kids," he said.

"It feels great to be home. There's been an outpouring of support, and it feels really good to be able to come back and be able to do something for the community."

Bennett said he plans to work hard while in office and has a list of goals he hopes to achieve. This includes seeing the continuation of the juvenile justice system his predecessor started.

"It's a worthy endeavor and certainly worth continuing," Bennett said.

Also, as a proponent of drug court, he would like to see the program expanded.

Other goals are to have stronger relationships with law enforcement and tribes on the Wind River Indian Reservation and to address the methamphetamine problem.

"If there is methamphetamine in a community, than there is a problem," he explained. "I've always had a zero-tolerance policy on methamphetamines."

Bennett said he also intends to have a transparent office.

"I really want to hear from the residents of Fremont County about what we are doing," he added. "We're going to be as open as we can."

Aspirations

Bennett earned a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and a master's degree in Spanish literature at the University of Wyoming. He also graduated from UW's College of Law in 2004 and passed the bar exam on his first try later that year.

He said it wasn't until he became a prosecutor that he found he liked criminal law. Later he became a defense attorney, which solidified his interest.

"County attorney has always been something I would have liked an opportunity to do if it ever came up," Bennett said.

The new job means he will not spend many long days in court, which he said is a downside.

"That will have to take a backseat," he said, naming off a list of individuals, including those in his office, for whom he is now responsible. "That's a lot of people depending on me."

Bennett said his first career goal was to become a doctor.

"And then I took an anatomy course and that changed," he said with a laugh. "I have always looked at the law."

While teaching Spanish courses at UW, a friend in law school encouraged him to enroll.

"I did it, and I liked it," Bennett recalled. "I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, just not what kind."

His career began with Wyoming Legal Services working with indigent people on civil matters. He then joined the U.S. Attorney's Office as the staff attorney for the Division of Criminal Investigation. Bennett served as the state forfeiture attorney, which he said involved, "taking money and cars from drug dealers."

After that, Bennett joined the Albany County Attorney's Office. He went into private practice in March 2008 in Cheyenne where he remained until his appointment.

While in Cheyenne, he taught criminal law and criminal procedure at Laramie County Community College.

He and wife, Patty, have four children. She practices law in Cheyenne and will take over his cases at his private practice until the family relocates to Lander.

Bennett said it feels great to be back in Lander, recalling his drive back Sunday after visiting his family in Cheyenne.

"I must have driven that road a hundred times," he said, adding this time was different. "It was this wonderful feeling coming home and to have something to offer the community. I am looking forward to settling into Fremont County and giving it a 100 percent effort."

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