By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
An order limiting the efforts of Laramie County’s district attorney to defend herself against allegations of incompetence is a violation of her rights to due process of law, she said in a motion filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Leigh Anne Manlove is asking justices to review the latest order issued by the group that oversees the behavior of attorneys, saying it unconstitutionally restricts her ability to mount a defense.
Manlove, in the motion filed Nov. 23, said it is important she be given a thorough opportunity to defend herself because the case marks the first time the state’s Office of Bar Counsel, an agency of the Wyoming Bar, has tried to remove an elected official from office.
“This is a crucially important case and one of first impression on the state …” the filing said. “In this case, the Office of Bar Counsel … seeks to remove Manlove from her duly elected office as the Laramie County District Attorney before the end of her term, using the lawyer disciplinary proceeding process as the vehicle, and based upon various allegations of lawyer misconduct — allegations that criticize Manlove’s office management, case management, prosecutorial discretion, and response to the novel and unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.”
Manlove faces a charge from the Office of Bar Counsel before the Board of Professional Responsibility. The board hears and reviews complaints against attorneys and then recommends disciplinary action, up to disbarment, to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The formal charge before the BPR accuses Manlove of failing to competently fulfill the duties of the office she was elected to in November 2018. The allegations include one that Manlove exaggerated budget pressures faced by her office to dismiss almost 1,000 cases in Laramie County and another that she improperly blamed police for errors that led to the release of two men accused of violent crimes.
The complaint is based in part on a letter signed by all seven of Laramie County’s judges in December 2020 expressing concerns about Manlove’s performance in office.
A hearing before the PRB is scheduled to begin Feb. 2. Manlove asked for a delay in the hearing and for more time to collect evidence in support of her case, a process known as “discovery.”
While Christopher Hawks, chair of the hearing panel for the BPR, declined to postpone the hearing, he did give Manlove until Jan. 5 to complete the discovery process.
However, he also imposed limits on the people Manlove could interview, the scope of the documents she could subpoena and the length of time she could spend in interviews with the seven judges.
Manlove is asking the Supreme Court to settle the question of whether such limits violate her rights to due process.
“(The) order denies Manlove her right to engage in relevant discovery relative to the allegations made against her and in support of her defenses; it deprives her of a meaningful opportunity to face her accusers and question them regarding the allegations made by them against her; it prohibits her from gaining access to relevant records, information and documentation to which she is entitled …” the filing said. “If Manlove cannot access the communications, information and documentation she seeks through her (subpoenas) directed to the seven Laramie County judges and others, she cannot properly prepare for trial in that she will have been deprived the opportunity to assess and evaluate relevant evidence to rebut the claims made against her and/or in support of her defenses.”
In addition, Manlove needs to be given an opportunity to protect her license to practice law, it said.
“Given the fact that the (state Bar counsel) seeks Manlove’s license to practice law (a constitutionally protected property right) either through suspension of her law license or through disbarment, and to remove her from elected office before her term in office expires, an immediate … review of the … order is necessary for an evaluation of whether Manlove’s due process and other constitutionally protected rights under the Wyoming Constitution … and … the United States Constitution, have been violated and whether the BPR Chairman has abused its discretion,” it said.