Attorney Damon Gannett was the longest, continuously serving member of the Yellowstone County Family Recovery Court team.
When Judge Greg Todd was out of town, Gannett presided — firmly, but gently holding parents accountable for making changes to recover from addictions that were a major factor in abuse or neglect of their children.
Gannett was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 3 1/2 years ago. He fought that terrible disease and kept working, continuing his law practice, which included Family Recovery Court every Thursday afternoon. At age 72, he was still working in the Family Recovery Court in September. He died on Oct. 2 surrounded by his wife, Carol, their children and his sister.
In addition to representing abused and neglected children in Yellowstone County, Gannnett handled those tough cases in Big Horn and Stillwater counties, serving as guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the children.
In 2010, Gannett ran for the newly created sixth District Court judgeship in Yellowstone County, finishing second to Mary Jane Knisely in a field of nine candidates. During his campaign, Gannett told The Gazette: "I believe that it is important that I give back to this community by utilizing my personal and professional experience by expanding my public service. ..." Many candidates make such statements, but Gannett lived those words. He could have made more money by taking cases other than GAL. This county has seen other dedicated GALs, but none who kept the job for nearly as many years as Gannett.
"He's been involved in the CPS system for 40-plus years," Todd said in an interview this week. "He would see changing philosophies, but the best approach to the problems was the treatment courts. The criminal system wasn't taking care of the drug problem. Changing philosophies weren't changing things. People need to listen to that experience and wisdom. That should be Damon's legacy."
Family Court required a "mindset change" when Todd took over the team leadership about six years ago with Judge Susan Watters moving to U.S. District Court.
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"When I started in (Family Recovery) Court, he (Gannett) was invaluable. The regular courts had much higher volume, but didn't have the opportunity for oversight that the drug treatment courts do."
"For Damon, it was not a job; it was a labor of love — at times tough love. Damon was a dedicated, caring person who lived what he said. He very consciously dedicated himself to these cases."
"It took a substantial amount of time to be a GAL in Yellowstone and those other counties and paid a lot less than divorce or mediation," Todd noted.
After graduating from the University of Montana School of Law and serving a stint with the U.S. Air Force in the Judge Advocate Corps prosecuting criminal cases, Gannett started his law practice in Billings in 1976. Within a year, part of that practice was representing minor children as their appointed guardian ad litem. He continued to be a children's attorney for the next 43 years. Gannett was appointed to represent child victims in some of this community's most disturbing criminal cases.
His work on behalf of children was recognized with numerous awards, including a lifetime achievement award from Yellowstone CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) three years ago. His obituary suggested memorials to Yellowstone CASA, which trains and supervises unpaid volunteers to advocate for the hundreds of Yellowstone County children currently in the foster care system. The obituary also mentioned making contributions "to any charity that might aid the Grizzlies in beating the Bobcats this November."
Damon Gannett was a great Grizzlies fan, a beloved husband, father, grandfather and colleague. There has been no greater advocate for this community's abused and neglected children. The GAL vacancy will be filled by the court, but his depth of experience and devotion will not soon be replaced.