By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
Wyoming’s Supreme Court is responsible for supervising the conduct of Laramie County’s district attorney, even if allegations of misconduct involve personnel issues, according to an attorney for the state’s Board of Professional Responsibility.
Tom Toner, in the latest court filing in the case of Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove, asked that the Supreme Court reject a request by the state attorney general’s office to limit the allegations it considers when deliberating a complaint filed against Manlove.
“It is disappointing that rather than encouraging the (Board of Professional Responsibility) and (the Supreme Court) to carry out their duties to investigate and resolve the concerns raised by … district and circuit court judges, the attorney general seeks to obstruct the disciplinary proceedings and prevent this court and the BPR from considering some of the misconduct alleged in the formal charge,” said the document filed with the Supreme Court on Monday.
The filing stems from a charge filed against Manlove in June with the Board of Professional Responsibility, the group that investigates allegations of misconduct against attorneys. The BPR has been asked to conduct a disciplinary hearing into Manlove’s actions since taking office in January 2019.
Among the complaints included in the charge was one that Manlove left the district attorney’s office unable to function properly because she fired all of the office’s attorneys when she took over. Another complaint was that Manlove told employees not to file for overtime, a violation of federal labor laws.
In her response to the charge, Manlove said the BPR and Supreme Court have no authority over how she manages her office.
The attorney general’s office made the same argument in asking the Supreme Court for a “writ of prohibition” to keep the BPR from considering Manlove’s personnel management or the request for employees not to file for overtime. The attorney general’s office argued that such personnel issues are to be settled by the Human Resources Division of the Wyoming Department of Administration and federal labor agencies.
But Toner, in his request that the writ be denied, said just because allegations against an attorney should be investigated by a state or federal agency doesn’t mean those same allegations shouldn’t also be examined by the BPR and Supreme Court when trying to determine an attorney’s competence.
“(The Supreme Court) and the BPR have a duty and an obligation to protect the public from incompetent, unethical attorneys whether or not any federal or state agency or any other court can, does or chooses to take action against that attorney,” the filing said. “The court should not pass the buck and tell the citizens of Laramie County and the State of Wyoming that an attorney’s misconduct is someone else’s problem simply because the attorney’s conduct might be so bad it could affect the state’s coffers.”
If the personnel management allegations against Manlove are proven, it can be argued her actions have hurt the administration of justice, the filing said, which would be a violation of professional rules of conduct for attorneys.
“If it is proven that … the proper and efficient operation of the District Attorney’s office has been damaged because Ms. Manlove has terrorized and abused the attorneys and staff in her office, including depriving them of overtime compensation to which they are entitled, and … as a result, she lacks the attorneys and staff to handle the case load in her office with the consequences that hundreds of criminals now go free on the streets of Laramie County and that the criminal laws of this State are not being enforced in Laramie County, then it is an understatement to say that the administration of justice in Laramie County has been prejudiced,” the filing said. “It has been wrecked.”
The charge against Manlove is the result of three separate disciplinary investigations, one of which was launched after all of Laramie County’s judges wrote a letter citing concerns about her “ability to fulfill her professional responsibilities and her responsibilities to this community.”
In addition to the management issues, the charge alleged Manlove exaggerated budget pressures faced by her office to justify the dismissal of almost 1,000 cases in circuit and district courts. She was 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.