Bar brings new charge against Laramie Co. DA

CHEYENNE — The Wyoming State Bar in mid-October filed a second formal charge against Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove, claiming that false statements and excuses about her office not being able to access crime lab results have impeded the administration of justice in the county.

The formal charge, filed Oct. 18 by Special Bar Counsel W.W. Reeves with the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility, is the second by the Bar against Manlove. The first charge was filed in June. The more recent charge alleges that false claims by Manlove about an inability to access DNA evidence prevented justice from being carried out in two specific instances.

In the case of Rodney Law, a man charged with several violent felonies and with four prior felony convictions, the Bar charge says Manlove missed a deadline to produce evidence, including DNA analysis from the Wyoming State Crime Lab that was “readily available” to her office through BEAST, a database used to store the results of law enforcement investigations.

The case could not proceed without this evidence and was dismissed with prejudice – meaning the same charges cannot be refiled against Law – by a Laramie County District Court judge.

During a June 6, 2019, hearing, in which Manlove admitted to missing the deadline to produce the evidence, she said she had no control over the production of evidence and blamed the Cheyenne Police Department for failing to provide her with the results, the charge says. She also called the discovery system “horrible” and said it doesn’t work, which Reeves writes is “in keeping with her penchant for blaming others for her incompetence.”

The charge also alleges Manlove and her office were informed about a month before the June 6 hearing by the police department’s evidence manager that her staff could access crime lab results themselves.

“We will not be sending results on cases in the future. As I have conveyed to multiple people in the DA’s Office, there is a Prosecutor Module for BEAST in which anyone can log in at any time and see what has been submitted on a case and what reports are available,” the evidence manager wrote in response to a deputy district attorney’s request to view results in a case, according to the charge.

On June 18, 2019 – about five months into her term – Manlove and her legal assistant were “activated with passwords” by a State Crime Lab evidence control supervisor.

In a second instance, Manlove is accused of declining to prosecute a case of child sexual abuse without considering lab results, which provided “conclusive support for the victim’s statement,” according to the formal charge.

In a July 2 letter to Manlove obtained by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, CPD Detective Lt. Rob Dafoe expressed his frustration with the district attorney and questioned why her office had declined to prosecute the alleged suspect, writing that the disclosure, facts and probable cause in the case were “one of the most substantial I’ve seen in 20 years of law enforcement.”

The State Crime Lab DNA analysis reports had been in BEAST since January, according to the formal charge and Dafoe’s letter.

The mother of the alleged victim checked in regularly with the district attorney’s office and “was given plainly false and misleading excuses for the delay, including that crime lab DNA evidence had not been available,” the charge says. The mother later filed a complaint with the Bar about the issue.

The city of Cheyenne, on behalf of CPD, filed a petition in August, asking the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office to investigate Manlove’s refusal to prosecute the case.

The Oct. 18 Bar charge calls using BEAST when making charging decisions “established practice” for prosecutors. Special Counsel Reeves wrote that the DA’s office investigator in July read the lab results, and in an affidavit filed with the Bar, the same investigator said legal assistants were regularly searching the database for lab results by mid-2019.

Both cases “are a continued demonstration of (the district attorney’s) lack of competence, her lack of candor, and indefensible decision-making on her part that is plainly prejudicial to the administration of justice in Laramie County,” Reeves wrote.

“She is a persistent and ongoing threat to public safety in Cheyenne,” he continued.

Manlove argued, in her formal response to the Bar’s first charge over the summer, that she was exercising prosecutorial discretion in her office’s decisions not to prosecute certain cases. In the new charge, however, the Bar said the Rodney Law and child sexual abuse cases were “not issues about the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but rather, they demonstrate consistent misrepresentations, a lack of competence and diligence that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Manlove’s alleged behavior described in the charge violates several of the state’s Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys, Reeves wrote, including duty of competence, duty of diligence and making a false statement in a disciplinary proceedings.

Stephen Melchior, Manlove’s attorney, declined to comment on the most recent charge, adding that he planned to file a formal response soon.

A hearing was conducted Tuesday morning in front of the Bar’s Hearing Panel Chair – a member of the Board of Professional Responsibility and part of the three-person panel overseeing the case – considering a motion by Melchior to extend discovery deadlines and delay Manlove’s disciplinary hearing, which had been scheduled for Feb. 2-11. The hearing also considered the consolidation of the two formal charges.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the outcome of the hearing was unclear. An order will likely not be entered for at least another week, said Brandi Robinson, clerk to the Board of Professional Responsibility.

In her first day in office in January 2019, Manlove fired all but one prosecutor and many other staff members. The Oct. 18 charge says the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office “never recovered from this loss of institutional knowledge,” that none of the attorneys she hired at the beginning of her term remain, that the number of attorneys is down by half, and of the 32 employees she has hired during her tenure, 24 have left.

“These conditions resulted in inadequately trained and overworked employees in a hostile work environment, delayed prosecutions, late court filings, missed court appearances, failures to comply with court orders, and late delivery of evidence to defense counsel, all covered over with unfounded excuses,” Reeves wrote.

Manlove said in a July 21 news release addressing the first Bar charge that, because of COVID-related budget cuts from the state, her office had to make difficult decisions about what cases to prosecute. She said some of the attorneys and other staff who chose to leave the DA’s office did so because of the budget cuts, furloughs, elimination of staff positions and COVID-19, or because of the stress that comes from working in a prosecutor’s office.

The first formal charge against Manlove was filed June 11 with the State Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility, also by Reeves. Reeves wrote that the Bar’s Review and Oversight Committee found probable cause to bring the charge against Manlove for multiple professional conduct violations throughout her tenure.

The Bar said one of three investigations into Manlove’s conduct at that time was prompted by an “unprecedented” letter signed by all of Laramie County’s district and circuit court judges. In the letter, the seven judges alleged that Manlove had mishandled both her office’s personnel and caseload, having a negative impact on the office’s ability to provide adequate representation for Laramie County residents.

In her July 20 response, Manlove largely denied the allegations against her, including that her alleged behavior violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct described in the charge.

The first State Bar charge said it was not budget cuts that caused caseload constraints, but Manlove’s conduct within her office that prompted many staff attorneys and other employees to resign. In her response, Manlove points out that her office’s caseload had “increased significantly,” while the number of state-funded attorneys available stayed the same, and staff positions decreased by two.

“(The DA’s) office is quite literally doing much, much more with less,” the response reads.

Manlove denied in her response that resignations within her office “left too few employees to meet the obligations of the office,” saying that “all obligations of the Laramie County District Attorney’s Office have been reasonably met by its attorneys and support staff, and that if the citizens of Laramie County believe otherwise” they can choose someone else as district attorney in the 2022 election.