Laramie County DA denies misconduct in response to State Bar charge

·9 min read

Jul. 22—CHEYENNE — In her formal response to a charge made by the Wyoming State Bar alleging "incompetence and lack of professionalism," Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove rejected that any behavior described by special bar counsel was improper based on professional conduct rules, asking for the charge to be dismissed.

"The Formal Charge, and each and every allegation therein, fail on their face to reasonably reflect proof by clear and convincing evidence" that the district attorney violated any of the rules pointed out by the State Bar, she wrote in the documents filed Tuesday with the State Bar's Board of Professional Responsibility.

Manlove also rejected the suggestion that one of three investigations undertaken by the State Bar was prompted by an "unprecedented" letter signed by all of Laramie County's district and circuit court judges. In the letter, the seven judges voiced their concern about the district attorney's ability to carry out her duties and provide adequate representation for Laramie County citizens.

Instead, Manlove says she believes the investigation was motivated by the Wyoming Supreme Court's rejection of a petition by Wyoming State Bar Counsel Mark Gifford to immediately suspend her as an attorney. Her response includes this petition by Gifford, dated Dec. 22, in which he cites the judges' letter and examples of Manlove's conduct.

The other two investigations came after complaints from mothers of women who were victims of dangerous crimes "perpetrated by men whose return to the community (without the period of incarceration their crimes warranted) was later endorsed by Manlove," according to the formal charge.

Manlove asserts that, based on her assessments of each case, "appropriate plea agreements were reached in those cases, and the victims were properly informed."

The district attorney's full response is 359 pages, with 42 of these written as point-by-point denials and admissions based on the charge's assertions. The rest of the pages include documents and other evidence that are referred to in Manlove's response.

The 23-page formal charge against Manlove was filed June 11 with the State Bar's Board of Personal Responsibility by Special Bar Counsel W.W. Reeves. Based on what was found in the three investigations, Reeves asked the Board of Professional Responsibility to hold a formal disciplinary hearing into the allegations outlined within it, directly impose or recommend the Wyoming Supreme Court impose disciplinary measures against Manlove, and order Manlove to reimburse the State Bar for costs associated with the charge and hearing.

Brandi Robinson, clerk for the Board of Professional Responsibility, said Wednesday that she expected a decision to be made on a hearing date within two to three weeks.

Dismissals were within "prosecutorial discretion"

Manlove refuted any claims by the State Bar that she dismissed an excessive amount of cases, asserting that any cases she dismissed were subject to her prosecutorial discretion and were signed off on by Laramie County judges. Further, she said, she dismissed all of these cases "with prejudice," meaning her office could recharge them in the future, if she chooses.

There is no evidence in the judges' letter or the State Bar charge that "contain facts sufficient to second-guess (Manlove's) exercise of her considerable prosecutorial discretion," she writes. She later asserts that the way the Office of Bar Counsel and the Laramie County judges try to support their opinions about how she responded to 2020 state budget constraints raises "significant separation of powers and Due Process concerns."

Manlove also denied the claim that "most" of her office's 800 circuit court case dismissals between October 2020 and February 2021 cited a Sept. 18 letter outlining her office's limitations because of state budget cuts. Only 400 of these cases included the Sept. 18 letter, she said.

The State Bar charge alleges that it was not state budget cuts that caused caseload constraints, but Manlove's conduct within her office that prompted many staff attorneys and other employees to resign. In her response, Manlove points out that the Laramie County District Attorney's office's caseload had "increased significantly," while the number of state-funded attorneys available to the office has decreased by two.

Manlove denied that resignations within her office "left too few employees to meet the obligations of the office," saying that "all obligations of the Laramie County District Attorney's Office have been reasonably met by its attorneys and support staff, and that if the citizens of Laramie County believe otherwise," they can elect someone else.

She said she did not "encourage" law enforcement officers to "shoulder the burden of prosecuting all non-priority offenses," and that based upon her knowledge of district courts and how things had been done in Laramie County "back in the day," she believed law enforcement could appear in court and prosecute certain citations. In fact, Manlove wrote in her Sept. 18 letter that "local law enforcement will have to shoulder the burden of prosecuting all non-priority offenses, and prosecutors will no longer appear in court for those cases."

The district attorney also denied an assertion by the State Bar that she told the Laramie County sheriff her office would not prosecute misdemeanor offenses or non-violent felony cases, and that she refused to prosecute Game and Fish violations or first-offense DUIs.

Manlove also objected to the inclusion of an allegation she said was resolved in early 2019. The State Bar said Manlove had filed a series of motions to delay trials shortly after taking office, and that she inaccurately claimed "misconduct" by her predecessor, Jeremiah Sandburg, made the delays necessary. She said Special Bar Counsel Reeves, who wrote the formal charge, should have been aware that this allegation was included in a complaint filed against her in early 2019, and that bar counsel agreed with her that her alleged ethical violations "if proven, were minor."

The Andrew Weaver case

The State Bar's charge against Manlove describes a September 2019 incident, in which Reeves says a Cheyenne man named Andrew Weaver was released from jail because of a failure by the DA's office to file charges against him. Five days later, Weaver was arrested in connection with a shooting that killed two adults and injured two 14-year-old boys.

The charge asserts that, on Sept. 24, Manlove's office sent out a news release giving a false version of events surrounding Weaver's release, accusing the Wyoming Tribune Eagle of publishing "misinformation." She said her office had charged Weaver on Sept. 9, but that the Laramie County Circuit Court had not file-stamped the charging document until Sept. 11. At this point, because Weaver had not been seen by a circuit court judge within 72 hours, as required by state statute, he had to be released.

However, in her formal response to the charge, Manlove explains that a legal assistant meant to file charges against Weaver on Sept. 9, 2019, but that a filing error prompted the Laramie County Circuit Court to ask for her office to refile the documents. Manlove said the legal assistant corrected the error, but instead of immediately taking the documents to the court, they placed them in a mail area for later delivery. Additionally, the circuit court was closed for most of the week of Sept. 9-13, 2019, Manlove said, which complicated the filing.

The charging documents were not filed with the court until Sept. 12, more than 72 hours after Weaver's arrest at 11 a.m. Sept. 8, meaning he had to be released from jail.

Even without the error that caused the filing delay, Manlove said, Weaver "would have been eligible for bond regardless."

Later in her response, Manlove says anything in the Sept. 24 press release that didn't reflect this account should be chalked up to her being "physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and not on top of her game" when she wrote it. She described a personal tragedy that began on Sept. 12, in which a friend and colleague of hers collapsed and later died, as well as other job responsibilities that included a child sexual abuse case involving a victim who spoke English as a second language.

Manlove affirms that she rejected Reeves' request to provide Weaver's case file, saying through her attorney that the files pertaining to the open case were confidential, and that Weaver's attorney, State Public Defender Diane Lozano, also objected to the release of the files. Manlove added that "the only possible purpose of the request is to harass and cause hardship to the respondent" and to increase the cost of litigation.

Issues within the DA's office

When it came to allegations by the State Bar that her "incompetence and lack of professionalism" created an unhealthy work environment, Manlove said these statements were "conclusory and pejorative statements of opinion constituting scandalous accusations" and should be removed from the charge.

She denied a claim by a legal assistant that Manlove's disapproval of a document filing tactic led her to yell "something along the lines of if she ever finds out who did that, she'd rip out their (expletive) (body part/organ) and shove it down their (expletive) throat." She did admit that she "voice(d) her displeasure, which likely included expletives."

Manlove rejected the claim that she requires all plea agreements to go through her, saying she has confidence in her attorneys to make these calls. Further, she said, any degree of control she asserts over the attorneys in her office or other staff is up to her discretion, and has not negatively affected workload.

She added that she does require most, if not all, deferrals be approved by her.

Manlove denied what she called "hearsay" allegations regarding her legal assistant, who was reportedly hostile to other employees, adding that this behavior, if found to be problematic, would have fallen to her to deal with, not the Board of Professional Responsibility. She also rejected the notion that the Board of Professional Responsibility should have any involvement in overtime or other employee-related issues outlined in the State Bar charge.

She said the Office of Bar Counsel's decision to identify a legal assistant by her initials was a "gross and inexcusable breach of confidentiality": "... in its zealous crusade to strip (Manlove) of her license to practice law and to remove her from her duly elected position as Laramie County District Attorney through administrative procedures, may have caused LR to experience serious and permanent reputational and other related injury and has made the State of Wyoming vulnerable to possible civil liability."

Additionally, Manlove objected to Reeves' inclusion of information from interviews with employees describing hostile and demeaning work behavior by the district attorney. She cited professional conduct rules, saying special bar counsel can't be both an advocate and witness when it comes to contested issues.

The district attorney also said she was aware of conflicts within her office and made attempts to fix them, encouraging employees to participate in training sessions.

Hannah Black is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle's criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at hblack@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3128. Follow her on Twitter at @hannahcblack.

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