‘What You See is What You Get’: New County Attorney Talks Life, Law and Goals in New Role
It still feels a bit surreal to him, Mitch Damsky admitted as he snaked his way through the maze of halls and cubicles to get to his office in the far corner of the Campbell County Law Office in the courthouse basement.
Damsky took a seat behind his desk in his new office, surrounded by animal portraits painted by his wife Carol and photos of his two beloved German Shepherds and Chihuahua siblings. He talked about how strange it felt to become a lawyer and oversee a large office.
“I didn’t expect to end my career this way,” he said in a faint southern expression from his years in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama.
Damsky was selected by the Campbell County Commissioners last month to extend the two-year tenure following the sudden resignation of former Campbell County attorney Ronald Worthwein Jr., who resigned effective October 26 (County 17 October 22) . . Damsky was unanimously selected from three candidates including Kyle Ferris and Jonah Buckley (County 17, Nov. 11) by the commissioners.
He’s humbled by the selection, said Damsky, who has served as the senior attorney in the Campbell County’s Wyoming Public Defender office since 2014.
Overall, the transition went smoothly. People couldn’t be nicer or more helpful, he said. Even strangers wave at him as he walks down Gillette Avenue in his mask.
Young dream fulfilled
Moving to Wyoming had long been Damsky’s dream, and in 2014 he applied and got a job in the Campbell County’s public defender’s office and moved without ever seeing his new city. It was Wyoming; That’s all that counts.
“When I was working in Yellowstone in the late 1970s, I fell in love with the beauty and majesty of Wyoming and knew that one day I would be back to stay. That day came over six years ago when my wife and I followed our dreams and moved to Gillette from Alabama, ”Damsky wrote in his cover letter expressing an interest in the position to the Campbell County’s Republican Central Committee.
It took a few decades for their kids to graduate from college and finally convince his wife and high school sweetheart to take the step. She had held out, but he wore her down, he said, with the promise of land and many animals.
He kept that promise. Currently, the couple lives with their dogs and an extensive menagerie, including three horses, four donkeys, 15 alpacas, and 18 goats, on a ranch 13 miles outside of Gillette.
Before that he worked in private practice for 30 years, where he specialized in criminal law and personal injury law. Early in his career he had also delved into aviation law and the death penalty, having received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the Birmingham School of Law and a degree in comparative government studies in Oxfordshire, England.
For the seasoned trial attorney, the wait in his new hometown, where even the drive to and from work feels a bit like an adventure, was well worth the rest. He described the beauty of the land and wildlife and the contrast between the loud noises and smells of urban Birmingham to which he now can no longer imagine ever returning.
Even the view from his window in the morning still surprises him. The rolling hills that look like waves in the sunlight. At night he finishes working with animals.
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“I decompress completely,” he said. “It’s different from anything else.”
The West, its values and the law
As one who loves the history of the untamed West, Damsky likes to believe he is walking on the same ground that pioneers settled on over a century ago.
“These people were tough,” he said. “We can’t even imagine what it was like today.”
He finds it humble. If a person ever starts to take himself too seriously, Damsky noted, all he has to do is stand out in the big open country to feel his own insignificance. He is grateful for the peace and quiet.
Likewise, the crime in Wyoming is a lot less serious than what he’s seen in Alabama. It’s a welcome change from the robberies, rapes, and murders he dealt with on a daily basis.
“It’s a lot easier out here,” he said, noting that he has so far been involved in a Campbell County robbery that was carried out with a BB gun. In Birmingham, the crime was much worse, including the spread of gangs in the city center.
“They have no respect for life or humanity,” he said. “We lost three or four generations in our inner cities.”
He wanted as long as he can remember, until high school. He just cared, he said, and every aptitude test he took over the years further confirmed that dream. He watched “every second” of the OJ Simpson Trial in 1995, which taught him two important lessons. First, juries can be wrong – OJ was guilty. Two rich people can afford to buy their way out of prison.
Damsky is well aware of his own privilege, he said, as he grew up the son of a factory owner in Mountain Brook, Alabama, one of the ten richest communities in the country and colloquially known, and later raised his own family, “The Little Kingdom.” It never felt real to him.
“It’s an aberration,” he said. “Demanding and condescending.”
This hit him hard one day when he came home from work to find his then teenage son admiring a new lacrosse racket that he had ordered and shipped overnight via UPS. When his son showed him all the new bells and whistles and “Titan this and that”, Damsky asked him if the stick would make him play better. His son answered blankly.
“That’s when it hit me,” he said. “The fact that it was too easy for him and he could just order and get what he wanted overnight. It wasn’t realistic. There was no diversity in his life. “
Wanting his son to experience real life outside of the elite suburb, he sent him to military school, just as he had attended during high school for five years. For both him and his son, it turned out to be a life changing experience that in both minds was the best ever, he said. Not only did both of them meet lifelong friends from across the country and around the world, but they also learned discipline and experienced lives beyond privilege.
“Little boys can play against the big boys” and not get injured
Fairness and a sense of fallibility are common themes in all of Damsky’s stories as he recalled his early years as a lawyer and young man orientating himself in the field of lacrosse, a sport he says everyone can do despite their abilities or playing skills can be physical stature. It’s a sport outside of the more glamorous soccer, basketball, and baseball triad where “little boys can go against big boys” and not get hurt.
It also offers scholarships for children who otherwise might not get a chance at college. He founded the county’s first lacrosse club and the first downtown children’s club in Birmingham. Each year the club sends more than 20 young women and men from downtown to college with lacrosse scholarships.
“They are good children,” said Damsky. “You just need love and guidance.”
He coached for 30 years and was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 2013 for his deeply rooted advocacy and love for the game.
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“It wasn’t for my game,” he said with a smile.
Professionalism and honesty
In addition to his appreciation for the large open spaces and the friendly, welcoming people, Damsky also values the integrity of the legal system in his adopted home, which sees him as a much more professional and honest place than his home in Alabama, where he said that the judges were elected and running every four to six years, always with outstretched hands.
“I played the game,” he said. “You have to survive.”
He’s tired of all of this, Damsky said, and appreciates the lack of ego and demeanor he sees in the judges at the bench here in Campbell County, whom he describes as incredibly competent and professional.
As for Damsky’s goals in his new role as Campbell County attorney, he would like to see fewer plea agreements and more cases brought to justice, especially in situations where the victim or law enforcement officer did not want to settle down and instead wanted to see justice play “win, lose or tie”.
He would also like to see perjury cases confirmed and plans to prosecute anyone under oath, either in court or a judicial officer, to send a message that such behavior will not be tolerated. He referred to a recent case in which a witness lied about another person’s role in a crime that cost those accused both time and money. Once the person admitted to having lied under oath, they were not prosecuted.
That will change, said Damsky. He also plans a second look at some of the coal companies that “blow and go”, manage assets in shell companies, or file for bankruptcy while ditching the county over unpaid ad valorem taxes.
Conversely, he would also like to see some of the lesser crimes, like possession of marijuana, made a misdemeanor instead of being sent to jail to make way for the more serious crimes that deserve attention.
Damsky also seeks to foster camaraderie among his staff and mentor the younger trial attorneys while encouraging them to pursue their personal interests. Weeding out complacency is key to a “good, happy team,” he said.
He’s not planning any major changes at the moment other than taking the pulse of everyone in the office and bringing himself up to date in his new role.
While getting to know others, he’s pretty sure everyone already knows where they stand, as they admittedly don’t have a filter.
“I’m not a bullshitter,” he said with a grin and narrowed eyes. “What you see is what you get.”
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