(Riverton, Wyo.) – Deputy Fremont County Attorney Ember Oakley was fired Friday morning by County and Prosecuting Attorney Michael Bennett, allegedly over a plea agreement in a methamphetamine case that Bennett asserted in open court had violated office policy. See that story here.
Oakley said she was fired in retaliation for her support of former deputy attorney Patrick LeBrun’s candidacy for the seat now held by Bennett. LeBrun resigned from the office in April. See that story here.
When contacted by County10.com and asked to comment, Bennett said he was not at liberty to discuss the dismissal. “Mr. Bennett said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on personnel issues,” he wrote in an email response for comment on the issue.
The plea agreement that apparently was the basis for Oakley’s dismissal was in the case of Dubois resident Trampes Rivers, who appeared in Ninth District Court on Thursday on methamphetamine-related charges. The agreement has not yet been accepted by the court pending a pre-sentence investigation. The plea agreement called for Rivers to spend five years of intensive supervised probation in lieu of a 5 to 10 year suspended prison sentence.
In a statement released hours after her dismissal, Oakley said the agreement for which she was allegedly fired was not the one she had negotiated with Rivers’ public defender, Devon Peterson. “The agreement entered in court took the jail time away I had in the agreement,” she said.
Oakley went on to say that every employee in Bennett’s office is in fear of their job. “He has absolutely created an atmosphere of fear and retribution in the office. I am the third woman out of three in the Riverton office in a position of power that he has fired for no articulable reason,” Oakley told County10.com “The third and last of the women in power has been fired.”
Shortly after Bennett was appointed to the post, on February 19, 2013 to replace Brian Varn, he released Deputy Attorney Kathy Kavanaugh and then he released the office manager and felony secretary in Riverton Kelly Hinman.
Ember said the only thing Bennett would say about her dismissal was that she had mishandled the case. “That’s not accurate in several ways, again, the offer I made was completely consistent with how these cases are handled, there was nothing at all about the agreement that was in any way out of bounds or out of line,” she said. “Devon Peterson and I negotiated that, and he told me he did not see anything amiss about the negotiations or the plea agreement himself. Inexplicably, or maybe there is an explanation, the plea Bennett entered into court wasn’t the one I made. It took the jail time away and completely undercut the deal I made.”
Oakley also said that there is no office policy on how plea agreements are handled, and up until Friday, she had not been required to submit a plea to Bennett for approval. “He would not tell me how I mishandled the case, he would not answer and I asked him three times,” she said. “Every single plea agreement I’ve entered into since he’s been in office I did with complete and full authority. We do not have a policy that we have to run our deals, plea agreements, through Bennett. I have never done that. We have authority to do these.”
Oakley’s formal statement is copied in its entirety below:
“Today I was fired from my position that I’ve held for 3 years at the County Attorney’s office. It was under the auspices of “Mishandling a case”.
I can prove to you that this is not true in 2 different ways.
Through media, I learned that Mike Bennett said on the record- in court- yesterday that I made an offer “outside of office policy”.
I want to be very clear – not only did I NOT step outside of ANY POLICY of the County Attorney’s office – I didn’t even get near a line. I have been a Felony attorney in our office for years, and have had full authority to negotiate. Every defense attorney, prosecutor and secretary working in the criminal justice system in FC knows this to be true.
I have had that authority every day of the last year that Bennett has been in office. And it has always been with his blessing.
Second, the Agreement that Bennett agreed to impose yesterday was NOT the Agreement that I negotiated. Mr. Rivers would not be out of jail today under the Agreement I offered. The ONLY explanation for that, is in order to create this scandal, he actually agreed to impose a LIGHTER sentence than the one I offered. He is acting like the Offer was repugnant, yet he removed the jail time that was agreed to by both parties. In contemplation of this political move, HE agreed to the release of Mr. Rivers from custody yesterday. This is contrary to the Agreement that I made.
Make no mistake. This is a lie- and more imporantly, a red herring– so that interim appointee Bennett could fire me for my support of Patrick LeBrun for County Attorney. This is retaliation for my speech, and for my position. It shows an utter lack of honesty and integrity. Because of this, and his whole record, I truly believe that the people in Fremont County are severely under-protected.”