It still feels a bit surreal to him, Mitch Damsky admitted as he weaved through the maze of halls and cubicles to get to his office in the far corner of the Campbell County Attorney’s Office in the basement of the courthouse.
Taking a seat behind his desk in his new office surrounded by animal portraits painted by his wife Carol as well as photos of his two beloved German Shepherds and Chihuahua siblings, Damsky talked about how weird it felt going from being a lawyer to overseeing employees and a large office.
“I didn’t expect to finish out my career this way,” he said with a faint Southern drawl, the lingering remnant of his years in his native hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
Damsky was selected by the Campbell County Commissioners last month to serve out the two-year term in the wake of the abrupt resignation of former Campbell County Attorney Ronald Worthwein, Jr., who resigned effective Oct. 26 (County 17, Oct. 22). Damsky was unanimously selected by the commissioners out of three candidates including Kyle Ferris and Jonah Buckley (County 17, Nov. 11).
He’s humbled by the selection, Damsky said, having served as senior attorney in the Campbell County office of the Wyoming Public Defender since 2014.
Overall, the transition has been going smoothly, he noted. People couldn’t be nicer or more helpful, he said. Even strangers wave to him as he walks down Gillette Avenue wearing his mask.
Young dream fulfilled
It had long been Damsky’s dream to move to Wyoming, and in 2014, he applied and got a job in the Campbell County Public Defender’s office and moved without having ever seen his new town. It was Wyoming; that’s all that mattered.
“While working in Yellowstone in the late 70s, I fell in love with the beauty and majesty of Wyoming and knew that someday, I’d be back to stay. That day came over six years ago when my wife and I followed our dreams and relocated from Alabama to Gillette,” Damsky wrote in his cover letter expressing interest in the position to the Campbell County Republican Central Committee.
It took a few decades for their children to graduate from college and to finally convince his wife, and high school sweetheart, to make the move. She’d been holding out, but he wore her down, he said, with the promise of land and lots of animals.
He’s lived up to that promise. Currently, the couple live on a ranchette 13 miles outside of Gillette with their dogs and substantive menagerie, including three horses, four donkeys, 15 alpacas and 18 goats.
Prior to that, he was in private practice for 30 years where he specialized in criminal and personal injury law. Earlier in his career, he’d also delved into aviation law and capital punishment cases, after receiving his undergraduate and law degrees from the Birmingham School of Law as well as completing a degree in comparative government studies in Oxfordshire, England.
For the seasoned trial attorney, the peace and the quiet were well worth the wait in his new hometown, where even the drive to and from work feels a bit like an adventure. He described the beauty of the land and wildlife and the contrast between the loud noises and smells of urban Birmingham, where he said he now can’t imagine ever going back to.
Even the view from his window in the morning still catches him off guard. The undulating, rolling hills that look like waves in the sunlight. At night, he winds down from work with animal chores.
“I completely decompress,” he said. “It’s unlike anything else.”
The west, its values and the law
As one who loves the history of the untamed West, Damsky likes to think that he’s walking on the same ground that pioneers settled over a century ago.
“Those people were tough,” he said. “We can’t even imagine what that was like today.”
He finds it humbling. If a person ever starts to take themselves too seriously, Damsky noted, all they need to do is stand out in the big, open country to feel their own insignificance. He’s grateful for the calm and quiet.
Likewise, the crime in Wyoming is much less grim than what he saw in Alabama. It’s a welcome change from the robberies, rapes and murders that he dealt with on a daily basis.
“It’s a lot easier out here,” he said, noting that he’s dealt with one robbery thus far in Campbell County, which was carried out with a BB gun. In Birmingham, the crime was much grittier, including the proliferation of gangs in the inner city.
“They have no respect for life or humanity,” he said. “We’ve lost three or four generations in our inner cities.”
He’d wanted to go into law for as long as he can remember, dating back to high school. It just interested him, he said, and every aptitude test he took over the years further verified this dream. He watched ‘every second’ of the OJ Simpson trial in 1995, which taught him two important lessons. One, juries can be wrong – OJ was guilty. Two, rich people can afford to buy their way out of jail.
Damsky is acutely aware of his own privilege, he said, where he grew up the son of a factory owner – and later raised his own family – in Mountain Brook, Alabama, one of the top 10 wealthiest communities in the country and known colloquially as “the Little Kingdom.” It never felt quite real to him.
“It’s an aberration,” he said. “Pretentious and condescending.”
This hit him hard one day when he came home from work to find his then-teenage son admiring a new lacrosse stick he’d ordered and had shipped overnight via UPS. As his son showed him all the new bells and whistles and ‘titanium this and thats,’ Damsky asked him if the stick was going to make him play any better. His son responded blankly.
“That’s when it hit me,” he said. “The fact that things were coming too easily for him and he could just order and get whatever he wanted overnight. It wasn’t realistic. There was no diversity in his life.”
He wanted his son to experience real life outside of the elite suburb, so he sent him to military school, just as he had attended for five years during high school. For both he and his son, it turned out to be a life-altering experience that in both of their minds was the best thing ever, he said. Not only did they both meet lifelong friends from all over the country and world, but they also learned discipline and experienced life outside of privilege.
‘Little guys can go up against the big guys’ and not get hurt
Fairness and a sense of one’s fallibility are common threads throughout all Damsky’s stories as he reminisced about his early years as both a lawyer and a young man who found his bearings on the lacrosse field, a sport he says that anyone can play despite their skill or physical stature. It’s a sport outside of the more glamorous football, basketball and baseball triad, he said, where ‘little guys can go up against the big guys’ and not get hurt.
Likewise, it provides scholarship opportunities for kids who might not otherwise get a shot at college. He founded the first lacrosse club in his county as well as the first club for inner city kids in Birmingham. Every year, the club sends more than 20 young inner city women and men to college on lacrosse scholarships.
“They’re good kids,” Damsky said. “They just need love and direction.”
He coached for 30 years, and in 2013, was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame for his deep-rooted advocacy and love of the game.
“It wasn’t for my playing,” he said with a smile.
Professionalism and honesty
Apart from his appreciation for the big open spaces and kind, welcoming people, Damsky also appreciates the integrity of the legal system in his adopted town, which strikes him as a much more professional and honest place than back home in Alabama, where he said the judges were elected and ran every four to six years, always with their hands out.
“I played the game,” he said. “You have to to survive.”
He’s tired of all that, Damsky said, and appreciates the lack of ego and attitude he sees in the judges on the bench here in Campbell County, who he describes as incredibly competent and professional.
As for Damsky’s goals in his new role as Campbell County Attorney, he’d like to see fewer plea deals and more cases go to trial, particularly in situations where the victim or law enforcement officer didn’t want to settle and instead wanted to see justice play out ‘win, lose or draw.’
He’d also like to see perjury cases upheld and plans to prosecute anyone who lies under oath – either in court or to a law officer – to send a message that such behavior is not going to be tolerated. He referenced a recent case in which a witness lied about another person’s role in a crime that cost that defendant dearly, both in time and money. Once the person admitted they’d lied under oath, they weren’t prosecuted.
That’s going to change, Damsky said. He’s also planning to take a second look at some of the coal companies who ‘blow and go,’ funneling assets into shell companies or declaring bankruptcy while leaving the county on the hook for unpaid ad valorem taxes.
Conversely, he’d also like to see some of the more minor offenses like possession of marijuana be ticketed as misdemeanors as opposed to being sent to jail to make way for the more serious crimes that deserve attention.
Damsky also wants to foster camaraderie among his staff and mentor the younger trial attorneys while encouraging them to pursue their personal interests. Weeding out complacency is the key to a ‘good, happy team,’ he said.
For now, he’s not planning on making any big changes other than to take the pulse of everybody in the office and get up to speed in his new role.
While he gets to know others, he’s pretty sure that everyone already knows where he stands, as admittedly, he has no filter.
“I’m not a bullshitter,” he said with a crinkly eyed grin. “What you see, is what you get.”