By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily
The board that recommended disbarment for Laramie County’s district attorney did not pay enough attention to the witnesses testifying in her favor, she said in documents filed with the Wyoming Supreme Court.
Leigh Anne Manlove on Monday filed her response to the Board of Professional Responsibility’s report on complaints filed against her and its recommendation that she be barred from practicing law.
In the 64-page document, Manlove said the BPR paid too much attention to testimony from witnesses called on behalf of the office of bar counsel, the individual responsible for investigating claims against attorneys, and not enough to witnesses called on her behalf.
“The BPR Panel markedly discounted the testimony of Manlove and her witnesses” her response said. “The Panel gave full credence to (special bar counsel’s) witnesses, but expressed distrust of Manlove and her legal assistant … The testimony given by Manlove’s ‘credible’ witnesses was of ‘little value’ to the panel.”
She also said the BPR had failed to prove its allegations that she had failed to competently fulfill the duties of her office, that its recommended punishment of disbarment is not in keeping with the allegations against her and that she was the victim of a concerted effort to remove her from office.
The Wyoming Supreme Court will make the final decision on whether Manlove will be barred from the practice of law as recommended by the BPR.
The recommendation stems from complaints filed against Manlove by Bar Counsel Mark Gifford that she failed to competently perform the duties of her office.
Among other things, Manlove was accused of exaggerating budget pressures to dismiss almost hundreds of cases in Laramie County courts and creating a shortage of attorneys in her office by firing most of the attorneys who had been employed by her predecessor, Jeremiah Sandberg.
The complaints were submitted to the BPR for a disciplinary hearing in February and at its conclusion, the BPR recommended Manlove be disbarred for misconduct in her job.
But Manlove disputed the findings of the BPR in her response, noting at one point that while she had fired four of the five attorneys working in the district attorney’s office in her first day in office, within three days, her office staff was back up to five.
When the COVID-19 pandemic and oil and gas industry slumps forced cuts in state spending — including the amount spent on district attorney offices in Laramie and Natrona counties — both Manlove and Natrona County District Attorney Dan Itzen told legislators they would have to cut down on what their offices did.
“No judge, panel member, SBC nor the office of Bar Counsel has suggested that Mr. Itzen ‘exaggerated’ his concerns about the budget cuts or suggested ‘misrepresentation’ by Mr. Itzen,” the response said.
Manlove was also criticized for suggesting that law enforcement officers prosecute their own minor traffic offenses when defendants represented themselves. But she noted the practice had been used by the district attorney’s office in the past.
Manlove’s office continued to prosecute certain crimes even though it had identified them as non-priority cases in a letter explaining some of the cutbacks that might have to be adopted because of budget cuts, the response said.
“Notwithstanding such announcement, the (district attorney’s office) evaluated, charged and prosecuted cases with the non-priority case categories she announced,” it said.
The number of cases dismissed has also been exaggerated by the office of bar counsel, the response said.
“There is no testimony or evidence, let alone clear and convincing evidence, that Manlove actually dismissed entire categories of cases, nor that the cases that were dismissed … resulted in public safety being jeopardized,” it said.
Manlove also noted that a judge had to approve the dismissal of each case.
Manlove also repeated her claims that one of her colleagues, Caitlin Harper, worked with the bar counsel to have her removed from office so Harper could take her place as district attorney.
Manlove said Harper had been complaining about the way Manlove ran the district attorney’s office to the county’s judges, who later sent a letter to the bar counsel urging action. The BPR rejected Manlove’s arguments.
“In fact, there is ample testimony and evidence to the contrary of the BPR’s finding,” the response said. “It was made clear in the record that Ms. Harper as the sole person talking to the judges about the (district attorney’s office.”
Manlove also alleged the was the target of “personal animus” by bar counsel Gifford.
All told, the BPR failed to prove the allegations against Manlove, she said, and even if it had proven the allegations, it has recommended a punishment greater than that recommended by the American Bar Association, which range from a private reprimand to a public censure.
The response also criticized the BPR’s recommendation that Manlove be forced to reimburse the Wyoming Bar $91,000 for the expense of the disciplinary hearing at Cheyenne’s Little America.
“The Office of Bar Counsel’s willingness to expend (State Bar) resources in this way is outrageous and no doubt it was done with the full confidence and expectation that Manlove would be reimbursing the WSB in the end,” the response said.