State bar charge filed against Laramie County DA
CHEYENNE – A formal charge against Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove was filed Friday with the Wyoming State Bar’s Board of Personal Responsibility, detailing what it called “incompetence and lack of professionalism.”
The 23-page charging document was filed by Special Bar Counsel W.W. Reeves, who said the state bar’s Review and Oversight Committee found probable cause to bring the charge against Manlove because of multiple professional conduct violations.
The charge stems from, in part, an “unprecedented” four-page letter signed by the four Laramie County District Court judges and the three Laramie County Circuit Court judges and sent to the state bar in December.
The letter described “a broad range of misconduct,” according to charging documents.
“In short, we are concerned that Manlove’s personnel management and caseload management cause prejudice to the administration of justice in Laramie County. ... We are also concerned for this community because it appears that there is a strong likelihood that Manlove’s continued tenure cannot provide our citizens with the representation in the District Attorney’s Office they deserve,” the letter reads, in part.
The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges to report questionable conduct by attorneys.
Two other issues addressed in the formal charge came from mothers of women who were victims of dangerous crimes “perpetrated by men whose return to the community (without the period of incarceration their crimes warranted) was later endorsed by Manlove.”
“Both cases demonstrate the public safety hazards posed to Laramie County residents by Manlove’s reckless conduct in failing to competently discharge the duties of her office,” the charge reads.
Manlove did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday afternoon.
The state bar has asked the Board of Professional Responsibility to hold a formal disciplinary hearing into the allegations outlined in the charge, directly impose or recommend the Wyoming Supreme Court impose disciplinary measures against Manlove, and order the district attorney to reimburse the bar for costs associated with the charge and hearing.
Manlove has 20 days from the filing of the formal charge, dated June 11, to respond.
The charge outlines multiple instances of Manlove allegedly failing to fulfill the duties of her role as district attorney.
Many hinged on a failure to file charging documents in a timely manner and on reportedly excessive dismissals of cases her office blamed on budget cuts.
On Jan. 25, 2019, an office manager in the District Attorney’s office wrote that the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department had informed the office that a number of inmates were set to be released because no charges had been filed against them within 72 hours.
In a separate incident in September 2019, a Cheyenne man named Andrew Weaver was released from jail because of a failure of Manlove’s office to file charges against him.
Five days later, Weaver faced charges in a fatal shooting that killed two adults and injured two 14-year-old boys.
On Sept. 24, Manlove’s office sent out a news release giving a false version of events surrounding Weaver’s release, accusing the Wyoming Tribune Eagle of publishing “misinformation.”
She said charges had been filed, but because Weaver was not seen by a circuit court judge within 72 hours, as required by state statute, he had to be released.
A legal assistant told the office manager that Weaver was released from jail because the office had not filed corrected charging documents in time after the circuit court asked for an error to be fixed.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s department also said at the time that Weaver had been released because the DA’s office declined to press charges.
The formal charge says Manlove failed to produce its file on Weaver when asked by special bar counsel.
State budget cuts set to begin Aug. 1, 2020, required all lawyers in the DA’s office take one day off without pay per month. As a result of the planned 10-percent cut, Manlove said the office would only prosecute felonies and misdemeanor domestic violence cases. Though cuts only ended up at 6 percent, Manlove wrote in a Sept. 18, 2020, letter to the courts and law enforcement officials that each attorney had to take two days off per month, which was false, the charge says.
This letter was cited in following weeks as grounds for the dismissal of “scores of cases.”
In circuit court, nearly 800 cases were dismissed outright between October 2020 and February 2021.
Most, the charging document says, cited Manlove’s Sept. 18 letter. Sixteen case dismissals in district court cited this letter, with charges including auto theft, embezzlement, drug possession and forgery.
Between October 2020 and February 2021, 132 cases were dismissed in district court, compared to 75 cases between October 2019 and February 2020.
Manlove’s Sept. 18 letter said law enforcement should “shoulder the burden of prosecuting all non-priority offenses,” which has no legal basis, Reeves wrote.
In November, Laramie County District Judge Steven Sharpe ordered that Manlove give legal reasoning for the dismissal of a case.
“On numerous occasions, in various dockets, the court has addressed the State’s concerns regarding the pandemic and reviewed the contents of the State’s memo,” Sharpe’s order reads. “This court has previously entered orders striking (the Sept. 18) letter that the State routinely attached to its motions to dismiss as an improper and unnecessary exhibit. Now, instead of attaching the improper letter, the State has chosen to simply incorporate its contents into its motion.”
Manlove apologized to Sharpe and said she would refile the motion, according to a transcript of the hearing provided to the WTE. The charge says the excuse Manlove gave to Sharpe regarding the letter, “that she did not understand, is disingenuous.”
In a separate issue, the Wyoming Supreme Court in a December opinion held that Manlove committed prosecutorial misconduct in a September 2019 case that involved sexual abuse of a minor.
The state bar’s charge also includes complaints from two mothers of women victimized by men in Laramie County, describing mishandling of these cases by Manlove.
In July 2020, Kyle Pandullo was charged with strangulation of a household member and accused of other violence against the woman and of making threats against her family members. Pandullo was initially released on bond following his arrest, but his mother later asked for the bond to be revoked and the money returned to her, saying she believed Pandullo was trying to contact the victim, a violation of his bond.
The charge says that, after being released on bond, Pandullo “beat and strangled” the woman again.
Following the resignation of Assistant District Attorney Caitlin Harper in January 2021, who had been handling the case, Manlove took it over and negotiated a dismissal of the felony strangulation charge in favor of a misdemeanor plea in circuit court.
This plea resulted in one year of unsupervised probation for Pandullo.
The arrangement included the plea and sentence being submitted to the court on paper, “but the victim was falsely told the sentencing would be some weeks following the plea,” the charge says.
When later asked by a circuit court judge why she thought the sentencing would be delayed, Manlove said she “didn’t understand.”
The sentence Manlove agreed to was also in place weeks before a domestic violence assessment of Pandullo was due, which Reeves calls “anomalous.”
No domestic violence assessment was ever filed in the case.
After he was released, Pandullo began again living with the victim in the case – a violation of his probation.
The charge says that, although Manlove was aware of this fact, Pandullo was not arrested, and that at the time of the deal, she knew he was the subject of investigation of a new strangulation incident that included video.
A second complaint alleges Manlove told a victim of David Rutherford that he was “very dangerous” and that she was “dedicated to getting him a long prison sentence.” Rutherford had been charged with numerous offenses, including aggravated assault, burglary, stalking and exploitation of a child.
But as the date of Rutherford’s trial grew closer, Manlove made a deal to put him on probation and release him from jail, according to the charge.
Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher approved Rutherford’s release on April 8, which would have been accompanied by supervision from the Probation and Parole office. However, Probation and Parole declined, and he remains in jail.
“When asked by the mother of one of Rutherford’s victims why she made a deal to release Rutherford from jail, Manlove said, ‘Because I can,’” the charge says. “The victim’s mother promptly filed a complaint with the Office of Bar Counsel.”
The formal charge posits that, instead of languishing under state budget cuts, Manlove’s office was actually struggling to function because of employee resignations that resulted from a toxic workplace she created.
Manlove was elected as district attorney in November 2018.
On her first day in the following January, “she fired all but one of the prosecutors and several other staff members,” the charge reads.
Manlove’s office then filed at least two motions to delay trials that accused her predecessor, Jeremiah Sandburg, of misconduct that made the delays necessary.
According to the charge, “there are many reports by present and former employees of hostile and abusive behavior,” for which some sought counseling and caused some to resign, leaving the office short-staffed. Eight lawyers and nine support staff resigned between April 2019 and November 2020.
Only one lawyer hired in January 2019 still works in the office, the charge says, and that person “is looking for a way out.”
All of those interviewed by Reeves said Manlove’s “hostile and demeaning behavior” was the reason they left.
The district attorney was reported as being “obsessively controlling,” requiring all negotiated pleas be approved by her, the charge says.
An email from October 2020 shows that she demanded she be the one to speak to every victim who contacted the office upset about a dismissed or declined case. Manlove also told lawyers and other employees in the office that she would be the only person permitted to speak with members of the media.
A new legal assistant was reportedly hired at a higher salary than others who did the same work, and complaints about this new legal assistant began almost immediately, the charge says. Notes taken by a new office manager in January 2019 detail condescension from the legal assistant, who reportedly told the retained legal assistants, “None of you are up to my level,” that they were “poorly trained” and “lazy.”
The office manager also described multiple interactions with this legal assistant that they said made it harder to deal with the Laramie County Sheriff’s Department and circuit court clerks.
In a note from Oct. 18, 2019, the office manager wrote that another legal assistant said she was uncomfortable with the “volume, tone, language and aggressive posture” displayed by Manlove.
In one instance, the legal assistant said, Manlove’s disapproval of a document filing tactic led her to yell “something along the lines of if she ever finds out who did that, she’d rip out their fing (body part/organ) and shove it down their fing throat.”
The legal assistant said this was just an example of Manlove’s behavior on a daily basis. She said she feared retaliation from Manlove, but that she felt it was important to report this conduct to an authority outside the office.
Manlove was also accused of telling legal assistants not to report overtime, and of delaying seeking approval to fill vacant positions in her office.