Candidates running for Sweetwater County Attorney spoke to voters Thursday

Candidates running for Sweetwater County Attorney spoke to voters Thursday

Participants prepare for the County Attorney Forum.

ROCK SPRINGS – With current Sweetwater County Attorney Brett Johnson announcing he would not be seeking re-election, someone new will be leading the office come November. The three candidates each got a chance to explain to residents why they are the best person for the position at the first forum of the year. The Sweetwater County Library System sponsored the event.

Running for the office are Democrat Bob Reese and Republicans Daniel Errempouse and Rob Hiatt.

Each candidate gave a little background and explained why they want the office. Erramouspe was born and raised in Rock Springs. His grandparents were immigrants, and his family has been here ever since.

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He graduated from Rock Springs High School in 1986 and graduated from the University of Wyoming’s Law School. In 1996, Erramouspe worked in the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor under Harold Moneyhun. After a couple years there, Erramouspe moved into private practice.

“I am running because it is time for me to give back to this community which has gave so much to our family,” Erramouspe said.

Rob Hiatt is Wyoming raised, and Wyoming educated. After high school, he also graduated from Wyoming Law School in 1995. He began in private practice with his specialities being criminal defense and family issues. Hiatt also worked in the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office under Johnson, handling cases from criminal to juvenile and everything in between.

He ran against Johnson in the 2010 election for the office and said he wants to continue to make the office as transparent as possible.

“One of us will be the next County Attorney,” Hiatt said. “This is a serious job and we are a big county. I will protect the county’s interests. I have experience in the office and know many of the people working there.”

Reese has practiced law in Sweetwater County for over 30 years. During his last year at the University of Wyoming Law School, he was director of prosecution assistance in charge of providing students to support prosecutors throughout Wyoming, which included his assistance in a murder trial in Sweetwater County.

Like Hiatt and Erramouspe, Reese also worked in the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office under Jere Ryckman. During this time, he became the first full-time prosecution in the county.

In 1993, Reese was appointed to the Wyoming Criminal Pattern Jury Instructions Committee by the President of the Wyoming State Bar and served for six years. In 2003, another President of the State Bar appointed him Chairman of the same committee, and he served another six years, until the committee had its results published in 2009.

Reese said what he would bring to the office is experience. He has worked on both sides as a prosecutor and defender. Reese said he has been involved in dozens of jury trials and has been involved in appeals all the way to the Wyoming Supreme Court level. He said he had also been named special prosecutor in three different counties.

Reese said he believes he brings the most experience and has the tools to make everyone on the staff better.

The candidates then answered questions from moderators and the audience. One of the questions involved mutual aid agreements in the county and the candidates’ thoughts on them.

Erramouspe said the agreements were best-left to those department heads who understand and know the most about them. He said it would be the county attorney’s job to look at contracts and give legal advice to the departments.

Hiatt said he had experience in civil law, and civil law is part of the office of the county attorney. He said it is the responsibility of the office to represent the county and all the departments in the county. He added the departments who do these agreements would be the leaders, and it would be the attorney’s job to protect and advise these departments when needed.

Reese said he believes current county attorney Brett Johnson has moved the office forward with some of these mutual agreements, pointing to the family justice center and drug court. He said he would continue this work. Reese said substance abuse is a serious problem and is one of the issues he would continue to work on through these mutual aid agreements.

“It’s a much bigger factor than I think anyone realizes,” Reese said.

Candidates were asked if they would be a hands on county attorney or more of a leader letting staff handle cases.

“You have to be able to do both,” Hiatt said. “I will make sure my staff is given what they need to be prepared, but it’s also important to take the lead and set an example.”

Reese said one of his biggest concerns is to make sure his staff would be treated as professionals. He also said he would let the staff handle what they needed to, but would provide support and help when it was needed. He believes it is important for the county attorney to be the leader on major cases and issues,

While Erramouspe agreed with a lot of what Hiatt and Reese had to say and the amount of work the staff does, he said he would set up standards; so everyone in the office was working towards a common goal of what he believes is best for the county. He explicitly said his two major priorities would be prosecuting violent crimes heavily and the repeat driving under the influence offenders.

The candidates also were asked why they left the county attorney’s office and why they wanted to come back.

Reese said he left the office over some personnel issues at the time he did not agree with. Reese said he wants to come back to the office because he enjoys what he does, and he enjoys criminal work.

Erramouspe said to be completely honest, when he was working in the office his salary was $36,000 a year and had an offer for more money in the private sector. He said every move he has made has been to expand his career, and it was now time to give back to the county that has given so much to his family.

Hiatt said out of the three candidates he is the one who has worked in the office most recently. Hiatt was point blank on why he left. He said he is a Republican and Brett Johnson is a Democrat, and it got to the point where he disagreed with the direction Johnson wanted to go.

“I can’t make changes unless I am the boss,” Hiatt said. “I have seen and know the problems and I can fix those problems.”

Throughout the questioning, the candidates agreed on several things but each pointed to specific issues that were important to them. Several times throughout the forum, the candidates agreed it was important to get an investigator back into the County Attorney’s Office. They also agreed that charging cases too high had to stop.

Hiatt spoke on the importance of providing the tools to his staff to be better prepared such as training. He said drugs are going to become a bigger issue with the recent rise in heroin. Hiatt also said he wanted to have better communication with the victims of these cases and help them understand everything about what the office was doing.

“It is our job to promote what the victim wants,” Hiatt said.

Erramouspe spoke about being tougher on violent crimes and repeat offenders of DUI’s but not through jail time but treatment. Erramouspe said treatment does not work in jail because there is no temptation in jail because alcohol and drugs are not around. He said an important step in treatment is learning how to deal with that pressure.

“I want to make sure those second and third DUI’s do not turn into a fourth and a fifth,” he said.

Reese said substance abuse continues to be a major problem in the county. He said it was important to continue to work with the youth and stop the problem at its roots. He said it was important to keep using treatment court and attendance court.

Reese said right across the street from the county attorney’s office sits the Boys and Girls Club. He said there could be a strong partnership there to help stop problems early on and hopefully keep more on the younger generation out of the system.

In closing, each candidate asked for voter’s support.

Reese said he brings experience to the office. He said he has been involved on both sides and in all aspects of law.

“We raised five children in Sweetwater County, and the county has been good to us,” Reese said. “I want to be given the chance to show the public my dedication to law.”

Erramouspe said there is a lot of work to be done and added he likes what he does.

“It’s something I believe I owe to Sweetwater County, and I feel I was meant to do this job,” he closed.

Hiatt said this is his home, and he wants to be involved in the decisions being made. He said the job is tough and the people the office prosecutes are the same people most of them grew up with and know.

“All of us are in this together,” Hiatt said. “I want to correct the shortcomings in the office and I know most of the staff who work there. I want to make sure people of this county are safe and treated with respect.”