By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Laramie County’s district attorney should be the subject of a disciplinary hearing regarding a list of alleged violations of the rules governing the actions of attorneys, according to a charge filed with the group that oversees complaints against lawyers.
Leigh Anne Manlove is accused of a variety of violations of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys in the report filed with the Wyoming Board of Professional Responsibility by W.W. Reeves, a special counsel for the Wyoming Bar Association.
Most of the violations, the complaint said, stem from Manlove’s “failure to competently perform the duties of her office” that prompted all of the judges in Laramie County to write a letter expressing concern about her performance.
The actions that prompted the complaint include Manlove’s exaggerating budget pressures faced by her office to justify the dismissal of almost 1,000 cases in circuit and district court in Laramie County and violating federal labor laws.
Manlove is also accused of misrepresenting the facts surrounding the case of a man accused of killing two people five days after being released from police custody on misdemeanor charges because of a procedural error.
Manlove, a Republican, was elected district attorney in November 2018, defeating Democrat Lynn Boak to replace former District Attorney Jeremiah Sandburg.
The charge filed against her with the Board of Professional Responsibility stems from three separate disciplinary investigations, it said, including one prompted by the “unprecedented” letter from Laramie County’s four district court and three circuit court judges in December.
The letter said the judges had “serious concerns about Ms. Manlove’s ability to fulfill her professional responsibilities and her responsibilities to this community.”
On Manlove’s first day in office, she fired all but one of the office’s prosecutors and several other staff members, starting a pattern that made the office a difficult place in which to work, the complaint said.
“Owing to Manlove’s incompetence and a lack of professionalism, the office was an unhealthy workplace from the beginning of her administration,” it said.
After firing all but one prosecutor, Manlove’s office filed a series of motions to delay court proceedings because the office lacked the attorneys necessary to pursue all the cases.
Those motions falsely blamed Sandburg for the delays, the charge said.
The complaint indicates that Manlove did something similar in 2020, when she dismissed hundreds of cases between October 2020 and January 2021 and reduced the services provided by her office, claiming that budget cuts had made it impossible for her office to fulfill all of its duties.
“The real reason Manlove’s office could not function was not furloughs, but employees quitting because of workplace conditions,” the complaint said. “Only one of the new lawyers hired in January of 2019 is still on the job. Eight lawyers and nine support staff resigned between April of 2019 and November 2020. Those interviewed by the special bar counsel uniformly cite Manlove’s hostile and demeaning behavior as the reason they left their jobs.”
In August 2020, the state announced that attorneys in district attorney’s offices would have to take one unpaid day off per month to help satisfy a need to cut state spending by 10% because of state budget shortfalls.
In a letter distributed throughout the county in September 2020, Manlove made the “false claim” that each of her attorneys would have to take two unpaid days off every month, leaving her office unable to fulfill many of its duties.
Manlove used the letter to justify the dismissal of 132 cases in district court and almost 800 cases in circuit court between October 2020 and February 2021, often filing the letter as a part of her requests to dismiss charges.
She also suggested that law enforcement officers act as prosecutors in non-priority offenses, refused to prosecute misdemeanors or non-violent felony offenses and refused to prosecute violations of game and fish laws.
In another incident, the complaint said Manlove’s office failed to file the proper paperwork in time to bring formal charges against Andrew Weaver, a man who was arrested in September 2019 on misdemeanor charges. As a result, Weaver was released. Five days later, he was accused of killing two people in a Cheyenne shooting.
Weaver was arrested on Sept. 8, 2019. By law, a person taken into custody must be charged within 72 hours or released. Weaver was released on Sept. 11, a little more than 72 hours after his arrest, after charging documents from Manlove’s office were not filed.
Manlove’s office manager documented the event and said the proper filing documents were not sent to the court in time to charge Weaver because they were placed in a “mail run area” for documents to be delivered to the court. The documents were not delivered to the court until after Weaver had been released. The office manager said in such situations, it makes sense to simply walk the documents to the court offices, which are in the same office complex.
Manlove, in a news release, maintained the documents had been received by the circuit court on Sept. 11, but not in time to stop his release.
However, the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reported the time stamp on the documents indicated they had been delivered to court on Sept. 12 — one day after the 72-hour limit to hold Weaver.
“The press release gave a plainly false account,” the charge said.
The charge also looked at two other complaints against Manlove, both stemming from the release of two men accused of dangerous crimes.
“Manlove’s ongoing incompetence and lack of diligence pose an immediate threat to public safety in Laramie County as demonstrated by … two felony cases brought to the office of bar counsel’s attention by mothers of female 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,” it said.
In one case, Manlove negotiated a reduction in charges against a man accused of assaulting a woman after being ordered to stay away from her.
In the other, Manlove agreed to recommend that a man with a lengthy criminal background be placed on probation on charges of stalking, sexual exploitation of a child and aggravated assault. The recommendation to release the man to and put him on probation came after Manlove told one of the man’s victims that she “was dedicated to getting him a long prison sentence.”
“When asked by the mother of one of (the man’s) victims why she made a deal to release (him) from jail, Manlove said ‘Because I can,’” the charge said.
The complaint also said Manlove ordered the legal assistants in her office not to report any overtime they worked, a violation of federal labor laws.
“”This willful violation of the (Fair Labor Standards Act) will result in civil and criminal penalties,” the complaint said.
The document asks the Board of Professional Responsibility to conduct a formal disciplinary hearing into the allegations and impose or recommend that the Wyoming Supreme Court impose appropriate discipline.
If the board conducts a hearing, it will issue its own findings of fact and recommendation for action to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Among the actions the board can recommend are a censure, a form of public reprimand, suspension of the right to practice or disbarment.
Manlove has 20 days to respond to the complaint, which was filed Friday.