Merit was born in Spokane, Washington, on September 8, 1947, to an Air Force family. His father enlisted in the Army Air Corps in WWII, served in Burma as a private in the Army Air Corps, became an officer, and advanced to the rank of Colonel over the span of his career, with his last assignment as Commander of Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. Merit moved whenever his father was reassigned (including when his father went to the Korean War), and, growing up, Merit lived in Maine, Mississippi, the Philippines, Kansas, Alabama, Turkey, and Northern Virginia. In the fifth and sixth grades when living in Ankara, Turkey, Merit learned to speak conversational Turkish, and his parents took him to Athens to view the Acropolis. He also attended a summer camp outside of Istanbul.
Air Force Academy
Merit was awarded appointments to attend both USAFA and West Point, and, because of his father’s service in the Air Force (his father was then stationed at the Pentagon), Merit chose the AFA. Merit lettered in Varsity Wrestling and Varsity Rugby and was on the Dean’s List and the Superintendent’s List. (In the match against the Cranwell (Royal Air Force College) rugby team in the Spring of 1969, Merit scored a try in AFA’s 14-0 win after receiving a perfect pass from Roy Coppinger who had broken behind Cranwell’s line.) During the summer, Merit earned Army Airborne Jump Wings (5 battlefield parachuting jumps in full battle gear) at Ft. Benning, Georgia. See https://en.m.wikipedia.org./wiki/United_States_Army_Airborne_School (Most of Merit’s training mates were Army enlisted soldiers training for, and on their way to, the ongoing war in Viet Nam.) See Special Order No. 153. See a description of this experience: https://www.defense.gov/Explore/Inside-DOD/Blog/Article/2062418/airborne-school-what-its-really-like-learning-to-jump/.
Merit also did his “Third Lieutenant” (officer training) tour at Tyndall Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, and was able to back seat in an F-4 Fighter Jet on a training mission. Academically, Merit was initially a math and science major, but became enamored with European languages, history, and culture and switched majors after his sophomore year to seek a degree in “Western European Studies.” During the summer between his sophomore and junior years, Merit was assigned to the Deutsche Luftwaffe Schule (German Air Force Academy) in Neubiberg, Germany, to immerse in German language, history, and culture, and, as a part of that experience, was, along with a small group of American and German academy students, taken by German officers on an unforgettable tour of Dachau, the first (opened in 1933) Nazi concentration camp. The shame of the officers leading the tour was palpable, but they felt it was their duty to show the AFA cadets this dark aspect of their country’s past. The tour of the gas chambers was heart-wrenching, the "final solution" of an autocracy - which can happen anywhere if we let it. (See https://www.history.com/.amp/topics/world-war-ii/dachau).
During the summer between his junior and senior years, Merit and ’69 classmate Mike Klindt got a “hop” (flight on a military transport plane) to Wiesbaden, Germany, where Merit’s father was then stationed, and they drove his dad’s VW Beetle from Wiesbaden to Paris. After returning to Wiesbaden, Merit and Mike took another “hop” to Berlin (when the city was still divided between East and West). While in Berlin, one night after dark, Merit and Mike walked to the Berlin Wall and threw rocks at an East German guard tower – a feeble – and not very wise - symbolic protest against totalitarianism. The brief “protest” went unnoticed - and no shots were fired.
Merit learned how to downhill ski at the Academy as part of the curriculum. (After graduation, he also learned to cross-country ski and served on the Ouray County, Colorado, Ski Patrol during the record-snow 100-year winter of 1983-84.) (See Merit Bennett's post-graduation photo from the US Air Force Academy).
While at the Academy, Merit became proficient in French, German, and Spanish and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for post-graduate study at the University of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. Unfortunately, the Nixon Administration slashed funding for the program, and Merit’s scholarship was withdrawn. In 1969, Merit graduated from the Academy on the Dean’s List with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Western European Area Studies.
Post-AFA Military Service
The summer after graduation, Merit and ’69 classmate Vic Martin flew to London, purchased used motorcycles, and set off. They crossed the English Channel, traveled down through Paris and then south over the Pyrenees into Spain to Madrid and back up through the Alps to Germany. The escapade lasted a month.
Merit's first military assignment was to become an OSI (Office of Special Investigations) Undercover Agent. Because he would be immersed in top-secret activities, he was thoroughly vetted for the position by completing a detailed Statement of Personal History (see Department of Defense Form 398) and undergoing a national security investigation. Merit then reported to a detachment of the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in Boston, Massachusetts, and went on to the OSI School in Washington, D.C., for final, pre-assignment training. Merit had Top Secret security clearance.
While at the OSI School in D.C., Merit scored the highest score for the language aptitude test that had ever been achieved in the history of the school up until that time, and the plan was for him to become an international spy. See Special Order PA-118 (test results) which reflects that the qualifying score was 23 and that Merit's score was 55. (During his last semester at the Air Force Academy, Merit was administered the military's Spanish Language Proficiency Test and scored in the top range. See Special Order P-17. His proficiency in French and German had already been established, and Spanish was his third adopted language.)
While Merit was training to be a spy, he was becoming deeply conflicted about our country’s participation in the VietNam War. Merit joined in the Moratorium Peace Marches against the war which were held on the Washington Monument Mall in October and November of 1969. The day following the November demonstration, Merit attended class at the OSI School with a small “peace symbol” (a white dove on a circular blue background) pinned to his uniform tie. At the end of the first class of the morning, Merit was directed to come to the office of the OSI Commandant, Brigadier General Joseph Cappucci, who angrily ordered Merit, “Take that f…in’ thing off of your tie.” The “meeting” was over, and Merit returned to class.
Because of the internal conflict about the legitimacy of the war that Merit was beginning to experience and because of the ultra-conservative view held by the OSI during the VietNam War era (the OSI was tasked with surveilling public anti-war gatherings on college campuses and in local communities, creating dossiers on enlisted military personnel who were participating in anti-war demonstrations when off-duty), Merit requested to be reassigned out of the OSI, and out of what he had thought was to be his career path. His request was granted, and Merit enrolled in the Air Force Supply School in Denver, Colorado.
Upon graduation from the Supply School, Merit was promoted to serve as the Chief Satellite Supply Officer for the NORAD (North American Air Defense) Command Center, which consists of multiple three-story buildings constructed inside of a massive cavern hollowed out within Cheyenne Mountain, south of Colorado Springs, Colorado, designed to withstand a nuclear attack and support the personnel inside for at least six months without assistance from the outside.
While serving in Cheyenne Mountain, Merit received boxing training from Air Force Sergeant Fred “Preacher” Lewis, who was then running the gym facility used by the multi-force personnel who were assigned to perform the top-secret work in the Mountain in preparation for intercontinental ballistic missile warfare and the survival of a nuclear attack.
Preacher had an extensive amateur boxing career with the Air Force and had been the Air Force Boxing Champion. In the 1960 Olympic Trials, Preacher knocked down Muhammed Ali (then Cassius Clay) but eventually lost the fight by a single point. Preacher went on to win the Gold Medal at the 1963 Pan Am Games in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Merit ring-boxed with Preacher at the Peterson Field Air Force Base gym on the outskirts of Colorado Springs, and Preacher wanted to sponsor and coach Merit to box on the amateur circuit, but Merit wisely declined and stuck with a much less dangerous sport - rugby. (Merit could never manage to stop Preacher from ending each round with a punch to Merit’s solar plexus.)
Merit transferred from Cheyenne Mountain to Peterson Field, where he continued to serve as a Supply Officer.
While at Peterson Field, Merit resigned his commission in the fall of 1971 as a conscientious objector to the war in Viet Nam (the second AFA grad to do so) and was honorably discharged in the spring of 1972. At the time, Merit’s father (then Colonel George W. Bennett) was the Commander of Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Merit and his father later reconciled when the illegality of the war and the lying to the American people by the Johnson and Nixon Administrations was finally exposed during the Nixon era and after Nixon’s resignation.
Following his graduation from the Air Force Academy, Merit played fly-half for the Boston Rugby Club (fall of 1969), for the Colorado Springs Rugby Club (Captain) (1970-72), for the American University Rugby Club in Washington, D.C., (Captain) (1972-75) and for the Denver Barbarians Rugby Club (Captain) (1975-1985).
While at his first post-graduate (from the Air Force Academy) military assignment with the Office of Special Investigation (OSI) at Hanscom Air Force Base, Bedford (near Boston), Massachusetts, Merit played fly-half for the Boston Rugby Club.
While stationed at NORAD in Cheyenne Mountain, Merit played for the Colorado Springs Rugby Club. Merit also coached the Colorado College Rugby Team. Also during that time, because of his playing experience and intimate knowledge of the rules of the game, Merit trained to become a referee and was invited to referee a prominent rugby tournament in Anchorage, Alaska.
After leaving the Air Force and while in law school at the American University in Washington, D.C., Merit captained the American University Rugby Club, playing other university and club teams on the East Coast, and also led an AU touring side at an international tournament in Montreal, Canada.
When Merit returned to Colorado Springs after law school to serve as a lawyer for Pikes Peak Legal Services in Colorado Springs in the fall of 1975, Merit joined the Denver Barbarians Rugby Club and soon thereafter became the Captain of the team.
In 1977, Merit was invited to tour in England, Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, and France with an All-Star New England rugby team organized by the Boston Rugby Club's captain and Merit’s former AFA Class of ’69 rugby teammate, Roy Coppinger. This All-Star team played in Public Arena Stadiums in London, Dublin and Paris and in Rugby Football Club Stadiums in Cheltenham, Cockermouth and Bath (England) and Ballymena (Northern Ireland).
In Ballymena, Merit had the honor to take the field against Ireland and British rugby international legend, Willie John McBride. (See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willie_John_McBride). Merit scored the only points for his team in that game – a forty-five-yard penalty kick. See also the Air Force Academy Rugby Alumni news story of the tour which reunited Merit with Roy after their AFA rugby days. (See Alumni Newsletter).
Merit also captained Denver Barbarians championship teams in the Denver National Rugby Sevens Tournament, in the Boston National Rugby Sevens Tournament (playing again with AFA Class of ’69 rugby teammate Roy Coppinger) and in the Aspen National Rugby Fifteens Tournament. (In "Sevens" rugby, the teams consist of 7 members, instead of the usual 15 members, and the length of the contests are shorter than "Fifteens" rugby matches, so multiple matches among many teams can be played on the same day in a tournament format.)
Merit played on the Western United States All-Star Rugby Team (’78, ’80) and the Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union All-Star Team (’78, ’79, ’80), playing in tournament matches in Denver, Chicago, Kansas City, Austin and Dallas. He also captained the Denver Barbarians Rugby Club in 1982, when the Barbarians finished Second in the U.S. National Rugby Championship held in Palo Alto, California.
Merit earned a Master’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Colorado in 1972.
Merit’s Master’s Thesis was entitled “The Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs: The Development of the Role of This Executive Office in the Decision-Making Process and Its Impact on Governmental Operation.”
For this Thesis, Merit interviewed Clark Clifford, lawyer and political advisor to Presidents Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter, in Washington, D.C. (Mr. Clifford’s official positions were White House Counsel (1946-1950), Chairman of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board (1963-1968) and Secretary of Defense (1968-1969).)
Merit also interviewed Dean Rusk at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Mr. Rusk was the U.S. Secretary of State from 1961 to 1969 under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Merit earned a Law Degree from the Washington College of Law at the American University in Washington, D.C., in 1975.
Merit’s Law Review Article was “The Entrapment Debate: From Sorrells and Sherman to Russell.” Merit was awarded the Washington College of Law “Best of Clinical Program Award” at graduation.
Merit was one of three students to participate in the first Clinical Semester Program initiated by an area law school in the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Office under the supervision of visionary Law Professor Elliott S. Milstein. (Professor Milstein later became Dean of the Law School.) In this Program, Merit prosecuted criminal cases under the supervision of an Assistant State’s Attorney in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, Maryland. Merit’s participation was full-time (4 days per week), and he handled daily dockets of up to 65 misdemeanor cases.
Also while attending law school, Merit volunteered as a Teaching Intern at the American University Learning Center, assisting the Director of the Learning Center, Dr. Charles Ferster, by giving general educational guidance to undergraduate students, as well as providing expertise in specific content areas (especially law and political science).
While in law school, Merit saw Joan Baez perform for peace and an end to the Viet Nam War at the Washington National Cathedral and later witnessed Nixon’s resignation on August 9, 1974 – the ultimate contrast of love and hate.
Also while in law school, Merit volunteered as a high-school referee for high school varsity wrestling matches in the Northern Virginia High School District.
During the summers between the years attending law school, Merit worked the first summer as a legal assistant for the U.S. Cost of Living Council and the second summer as a legal assistant for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. At the FDA, Merit helped draft the first comprehensive federal regulations requiring that ingredient statements be placed on the labels of processed food products sold within the United States – the labels on the foods that you buy in the store today. McDonalds, on behalf of fast food restaurants, immediately requested, and was granted, an exemption from food ingredient labeling, as long as the ingredient statement for the foods was posted prominently within the restaurant, visible to the public. See the Memorandum and proposed Exemption co-drafted by Merit attached here.
Meritʼs legal career began with Pikes Peak Legal Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1975, with a Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (U.S. Department of Justice) federal grant to defend indigent/homeless juveniles who were charged with felony crimes, which, for the first time in our justice system, entitled juveniles who were charged with committing crimes to the protection of the same due process rights only previously afforded to criminally-charged adults.
After that service, Merit was recruited to become a Colorado State Public Defender in the Colorado Springs office, defending indigent adults charged with felony crimes, including murder, robbery, burglary, and rape.
During his employment with the Colorado State Public Defender’s Office, in order to keep fit for rugby, Merit underwent ballet training and performed at The Pikes Peak Theater for the Performing Arts in the Rocky Mountain Ballet production of “The Firebird” by the Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, under the direction of Ilse Reese Gahart, who had trained and performed with the Vienna Opera Ballet and the Salzburg Festival Ballet. Merit performed the role of the Firebird. (“The Firebird” was first performed in Paris in 1910.)
Following his service with the Public Defender’s Office, Merit entered private practice, forming a partnership with Richard L. Tegtmeier, a renowned Colorado trial attorney. Merit specialized in the practice of real estate, estate planning, and business formation law. Lance M. Sears, another accomplished trial attorney, later joined the firm as a partner.
In 1983, Merit moved to Ouray, Colorado, and established his own general practice with Michael Hockersmith, who left his teaching position at the University of Colorado Law School to partner with Merit. Their firm ultimately expanded into offices in Montrose and Delta, Colorado, with the formation of the law firm of Tisdel, Mathis, Reed, Hockersmith & Bennett.
While in Ouray, Merit took up cross-country skiing (he had learned how to downhill ski while at the Academy) and served on the Ouray County Mountain Rescue Team during the winter of 1983-84.
Also while in Ouray, Merit met Doris Jane Pawloski, the love of his life. In 1986, Merit and Dori moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Merit established a general practice, emphasizing business law and business litigation.
In 1987, Merit served as Special Counsel for litigation for the law firm of Mitchell & Alley (John Mitchell and Jim Alley) until Merit returned to solo practice in 1989 to engage primarily in personal injury law.
Merit and Stephen Tinkler formed Tinkler & Bennett in 1994 and specialized in civil litigation until 2004, when Merit formed his own firm, now known as “The Bennett Law Group.”
The Bennett Law Group
The Bennett Law Group is a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based firm, which emphasizes representation in personal injury, civil rights, and employment discrimination law. Throughout his career, Merit has served clients in a wide variety of legal disciplines, which allows him to view his clients’ legal issues in a broader context that will ultimately enhance their legal outcomes. See Merit’s website: www.thebennettlawgroup.com.
Merit’s legal achievements include: (1) a $1.9 million jury verdict against Wal-Mart for sexual harassment of three women; (2) a $4.9 million settlement against the Honolulu Hawai’i Police Department for race and gender discrimination that was published in U.S. News and World Report; (3) a $2.2 million jury verdict against Terminix International for pesticide poisoning; (4) a still-ongoing (since 1999) nationwide series of lawsuits against Wal-Mart for gender discrimination. (see May 2019 Time Magazine article). (5) settlement of over 100 cases of childhood sexual abuse by Catholic clergy; and (6) representation of hundreds of victims of workplace sexual harassment and of gender, race, age, and disability discrimination.
Merit and his former partner brought one of the first lawsuits against the Catholic Church in New Mexico in 1994 for childhood sexual abuse.
Merit has taken the depositions of two Catholic Archbishops (Michael Sheehan and Robert Sanchez). When Merit questioning Archbishop Sanchez in a Catholic Convent south of Albuquerque, Sanchez incredibly, and falsely, stated that he “did not know it was a crime to molest a child.” (Sanchez had himself sexually assaulted teenage girls.)
Merit took the depositions of notorious pedophile priests Father David Holley (in the New Mexico State Prison in Las Cruces, New Mexico) and Father Ed Donelan (on church premises).
Merit has settled gender discrimination claims that he brought against two sitting New Mexico Governors and is currently assisting the New Mexico State Attorney General in the criminal prosecution of notorious pedophile and former priest Father Marvin Archuleta for the rape of one of Merit’s clients who was only 6 years old when the assault occurred. Two of Merit’s other clients, also victims of Archuleta, are witnesses for the prosecution.
In early November of 2019, Merit joined former California prosecutor, Seth Goldstein, in the filing of a lawsuit in Federal Court in the Eastern District of the State of California against the Guiding Hands School, a private school for special needs students, on behalf of the family of 13-year-old autistic student Max Benson, who was killed by school staff when they applied a prone restraint on Max while he was having an episode. Teachers and the school were charged with involuntary manslaughter. See NBC Nightly News story.
Merit is licensed to practice law in New Mexico, Hawaii, and Colorado and is admitted to practice before the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Sacramento, California, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado, and the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Merit has appeared in federal and state courts in New Mexico, Hawai’i, Colorado, California, Texas, West Virginia, Utah, Long Island, N.Y., and Washington, D.C.
Merit has conducted depositions in New Mexico, Hawai’i, Colorado, California, Wyoming, Arizona, Louisiana, Alabama, Illinois, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Montana, Washington, and Oregon.
Merit has also taught Continuing Legal Education Ethics Courses for the New Mexico State Bar based upon his book, Law and the Heart.
Merit was selected for inclusion in the 2017-2018 edition of the Who’s Who Directory of Top Attorneys of North America.
Merit has published two books: Law and the Heart: A New Paradigm and Legal Professionalism: Fifty Words That Strike the Heart. (Law and the Heart is available on Amazon.)
Merit has also co-authored, with esteemed Psychotherapist Elaine Simard LaForet, Priest As Pedophile, The Sexual Abuse of Catholic Children.
Merit met his wife, Dori, in Ouray, Colorado, in 1984.
Dori is an accomplished artist, a wonderful mother, and grandmother and a loving and brilliant human. (See some of Dori’s art). Dori’s keen intellect, insightful wisdom, and enduring compassion have guided the family through every challenge they have encountered throughout the years.
Dori is a rare embodiment of spirit. She is brilliantly intelligent and keenly perceptive of human nature. She can assess the character of a person instantly upon meeting or even upon hearing their description. She cannot tolerate untruthfulness. She is a devoted student of her Buddhist teachers and is a wealth of understanding and compassion for those in need. Dori is a precious and genuine expression of the enlightened nature of our being.
Dori is a blessing to all that know her, and her inherent goodness and spiritual determination have inspired the transformation of Merit's view of life from one of self to one of service, from one of casual participation to one of focus. She is a rare light being whose very presence is always wakeful and transformative - a unique combination of wisdom and humor. Always fully present in the moment, she encourages the best of humanity from everyone she encounters.
Dori is pure and unrelenting honesty and unconditional love.
Dori was a member of the Board of Directors of the Santa Fe Desert Academy when their sons Colin and Grant attended (Merit served as the Board’s legal counsel), and she provided a second home to members of the basketball team (of which Merit was the assistant coach when they went to the State Championship – and placed third!).
Dori and Merit are Buddhist practitioners and students of Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche of Bhutan and Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche of Nepal. Merit is the lawyer for, and legally organized, both of the U.S. nonprofit entities which support each of these master’s travels and teachings in the United States.
Dori and Merit have also traveled to Germany and France to receive teachings from Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, and Rinpoche has been a guest in their homes in Santa Fe and in Hawai’i.
Dori and Merit have also received teachings from Khenpo Namdrol Rinpoche in Hawai’i, France, and California, and Rinpoche has also been their house guest in Hawai’i.
Dori and Merit also received teaching from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1991 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
On July 6, 2018, Merit and Dori celebrated Dori’s 69th birthday at the acclaimed performance of Hamilton in the Victoria Palace Theater in London.
Merit and Dori’s Children
Talia V. Kosh, Associate Attorney
Since 2004, Merit has been joined in his practice by his daughter, Talia V. Kosh, who graduated from the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans and who also received a Master of Law Degree from Merit’s law school alma mater, the Washington College of Law at the American University in Washington, D.C.
In addition to her law practice with Merit, Talia is the President and Founder of New Mexico Lawyers for the Arts, a non-profit organization dedicated to help artists negotiate the legal system and to provide legal advice to arts-related nonprofit organizations in the Santa Fe area on a pro bono and tiered-rate basis. Talia has served on numerous non-profit boards in Santa Fe, including Creative Santa Fe, Warehouse 21, Intermezzo at the Santa Fe Opera, and the Global Center for Cultural Entrepreneurship. In 2013, she served as the Chair of the Intellectual Property Section of the New Mexico State Bar. Talia is also a member of the Governor’s Council of Film and Media Industries in New Mexico. Talia has taught courses and moderated seminars at the Santa Fe Community College and other venues. Talia received the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for “Excellence in the Arts” in 2014. Talia is also counsel for Meow Wolf (whose chief investor is Santa Fe resident and Game of Thrones author, George R.R. Martin) in Santa Fe and Denver.
Talia also is the lead singer and plays the ukulele for her popular Santa Fe group “Golden General."
Grant Alexander Kosh
Grant graduated with a BA from the New Mexico School for the Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is also an accomplished airbrush artist. See Grant's art at (1) https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/grant-kosh; (2) https://twitter.com/grantkosh?lang=en; (3) https://abq-live.com/grant-kosh-paints-us-a-picture-of-whats-to-come-for-this-santa-fe-artist/; and (4) https://www.sfreporter.com/arts/artsvalve/2013/01/29/brush-with-fame/.
Grant is now serving as the Assistant Registrar for Meyer Gallery in Santa Fe. See https://www.meyergalleries.com/.
Colin Rush Bennett
Colin graduated with a BA from the University of Hawai’i and created and owns the popular restaurant/bar “The Malted Barley,” in Westerly, Rhode Island, which he also franchised to Providence, Rhode Island.
Colin and his wife Stephanie have two children (Merit’s and Dori’s grandchildren), Sam and Hudson. Stephanie is a wonderful mother and an accomplished and artistic professional florist.
Kelsey Fox Bennett Boyd
Kelsey has a BA in Creative Writing and Dance from the University of Colorado and a Masters of Education in Community Arts from Lesley University, and she now teaches at the Barrow Street Nursery School in Manhattan, New York. Kelsey also is a licensed brain gym instructor and does private personal welfare and coaching consultations through her website (kelseyfoxbennettboyd.com). Kelsey’s husband, Ballard Boyd, is a producer of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on CBS. In 2021, Ballard received an Emmy Award for his creative production of the show.