Jonathan Lange: The Wyoming State Bar should be accountable to voters.

in Column/Jonathan Lange

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By Jonathan Lange, guest columnist

The Wyoming Bar Association seems obsessed with overruling Cheyenne voters. Special Counsel, W. W. Reeves, not only filed highly disputable charges against the elected Laramie County DA, Leigh Anne Manlove, he and the Bar continue to hinder her from mounting a proper defense.

Recently (11/3/21), the Cowboy State Daily reported that the Bar’s “Board of Professional Responsibility” (BPR) imposed an October 22 deadline for her to complete the discovery portion of her defense. But that same Bar has stalled and limited her ability to interview the seven judges who sent a letter to the Bar last December.

Stephen Melchior, Manlove’s attorney, explained that the deadline “is prejudicial to (Manlove) and does not provide her the time necessary to complete discovery in this case, and is further prejudicial in limiting her to the taking of 10 depositions, especially since 7 of the depositions are of the judges who waged the initial complaint in this matter, and since it is apparent on its face that both present and former employees of the DA’s office, and others, have information that is relevant to the allegations made in the formal charge.”

Reeves retorted that Manlove should have been preparing her defense since she “saw the seven judges’ letter in December of 2020.” This is a revealing claim. There is nothing on the December 21, 2020, letter to indicate that Manlove even got a copy. Why should she be expected to retain counsel and prepare a defense to a letter?

This mystery is partially solved in that, on the very next day, Wyoming Bar Counsel, Mark Gifford, filed a 48-page “Petition for immediate suspension” of Manlove’s license to practice law. You read that right. Seven judges conspired to submit an “unprecedented” letter against her on Monday, and immediately the Bar filed an apparently pre-written petition to disbar her.

While this explains how Manlove learned of the letter, it also raises many questions about how the seven judges and the Wyoming Bar were colluding behind the scenes. Who drafted the letter? Who reviewed, edited, promoted it, and solicited the signatures? Who, at the Wyoming Bar, was communicatingwith the judges, and what private information was being exchanged? These and many other questions should be answered under oath.

Even so, the Wyoming Supreme Court resoundingly rejected the Wyoming Bar’s attempt to suspend Manlove’s license. On January 26, 2021, less than a week after receiving her response to the Bar’s vacuous charges, the Court vindicated her. It wasn’t even close.

The strange circumstances of the letter from seven judges remained a curiosity but only that. The matter was closed. Who would have guessed that ten days after being trounced at the Supreme Court the Bar would appoint a Special Counsel to reopen the matter in a secret star-chamber of the BPR. That sure sounds like double jeopardy to me.

Now the collusion between the seven judges and the Wyoming State Bar has become more relevant than ever. Reeves himself seems to admit this by asserting that Manlove should have been investigating it since December. So, why is he and the Bar doing everything in their power to limit Manlove’s ability to discover the truth?

Since the Bar filed its Formal Charge on June 11, 2021, it has filed motions to “forbid depositions of the seven Laramie County judges,” or “to limit the scope and duration of any depositions.” It has also gone on record to oppose the discovery of written communications pertinent to the case. And these motions do not go before any state court. The Bar is making these motions before its own BPR “Hearing Panel.”

You might wonder how the Wyoming Bar has the power to restrict witnesses in a case where it is, itself, the plaintiff. Those are the rules of the Wyoming State Bar. They do not have to follow the same rules as state courts. They are a private club that does its work behind closed doors.

Private clubs are entitled to do as they please. The Bar can make itself the judge, jury and executioner of its own private organization. But it violates the separation of powers when it tries to use these rules to overturn a public election.

On November 6, 2018, 21,083 voters in Laramie County elected Manlove to be their District Attorney. And yet, within months of beginning her tenure, the Bar began working behind the scenes to take her out. Next, it tried to suspend her law license. Now, it is re-trying her case “in-house.” Manlove’s thorough response, filed on July 20, speaks for itself. It is available at LA4DA.com.

Last Thursday, November 11, the Hearing Panel issued its latest edicts on the matter. While it extended the deadline for discovery, it continues to hobble Manlove’s ability to cross-examine the main actors involved in the matter. All of its circling of the wagons is justified by the internal rules of the Bar. But that’s just the problem.

Wyoming citizens did not elect the BPR, the Special Counsel, the Bar Counsel, or anybody at the Wyoming State Bar. Nor did they have any input on the rules governing its inner workings. Yet all this private power threatens to strip 67.1 percent of Cheyenne’s voters from electing their own District Attorney.

If the good people of the Bar want to control what happens in the DA’s office, let them win an election. The people of Laramie County are fully capable of deciding Manlove’s competence to serve. They do not need an unelected star-chamber to nullify their vote.

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