Laramie County DA responds to second State Bar charge

CHEYENNE — In her response to the Wyoming State Bar’s second formal charge against her, Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove denied allegations that she made false claims or excuses about her office’s inability to access evidence.

Pushing back at the Bar’s claims that she neglected to access evidence that was accessible to her, Manlove said it was up to law enforcement and other such agencies to notify her office about available evidence from the Wyoming State Crime Laboratory. 

Because of program limitations, the state crime lab directly notifies agencies that submit evidence, not the DA’s office, she said. 

“It is the responsibility of the submitting agency, when it receives the (state crime lab’s) lab reports/ results/analysis, to share the same with the DA’s office, or at the very least to notify the DA’s office that results are in and available. The DA’s office relies on said communications from submitting agencies,” she said in the response, filed Monday with the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility. 

The second formal charge was filed Oct. 18 by Special Bar Counsel W.W. Reeves with the Board of Professional Responsibility. 

Reeves said Manlove’s failure to obtain certain crime lab evidence resulted in the dismissal of a case against Rodney Law, a man charged with several violent felonies, and a failure to prosecute an alleged child sex abuse case, in which law enforcement claimed evidence was overwhelming. 

Reeves said evidence from the state crime lab, such as DNA analysis, was “readily available” to the DA’s office through BEAST, a database used to store the results of law enforcement investigations. He cited a Cheyenne Police Department evidence manager’s communications with the DA’s office in mid-2019 that BEAST was available to prosecutors to check at any time.

Manlove admits in her response that she failed to produce certain evidence in the Law case, but denies the claim by Reeves that the evidence in the BEAST database was “readily available” to her office. 

She argues that “evidence becomes readily available to the DA’s office once the DA’s office has been notified by the submitting agency (e.g., CPD) that such evidence has been posted on the BEAST portal.” 

Manlove’s assertions seem to be supported by a Sept. 22 affidavit signed by Jeff Smith, who was hired as an investigator for the district attorney’s office at the beginning of Manlove’s tenure in January 2019, according to previous reporting. Smith says a state crime lab quality control manager told him it would make the most sense for a CPD evidence manager – despite her protests – to consistently forward the DA’s office email notifications alerting them to available evidence in BEAST. 

“In every organization that I have ever worked in, it has been the responsibility of the primary officer or the lead detective to submit all evidence for testing, identify what testing should be done and obtain the results of that testing. It was also their responsibility to provide all reports associated with a case to the office of the prosecuting attorney,” says Smith, who said he was “a law enforcement officer for 33 years, and a detective/special agent for 16 of those years, and supervised a detective division for an additional four years.” 

Smith also writes that, although the database “is not a user friendly system as a search tool, and every case number had to be manually entered on every inquiry,” making it a very time consuming endeavor, legal assistants began searching BEAST weekly to find available evidence for their assigned cases after the Rodney Law incident. 

Addressing her decision not to prosecute an alleged child sex abuse case, Manlove echoed statements she made in response to the Bar’s first charge against her in June: that it is up to the district attorney, and only the district attorney, to decide which cases her office will prosecute. 

“(I do) not pursue prosecutions to satisfy the emotional injustice an alleged victim’s family member feels, no matter how merited those feelings might be,” she writes. 

Manlove also argues that the Office of Bar Counsel – supervised by the Wyoming Supreme Court, which is the judicial branch – can’t try to compel a district attorney, who represents the executive branch, to prosecute a case. 

Because of this, a complaint by the alleged victim’s mother to the Bar is a violation of the Wyoming Constitution, she says. 

She further disputes the mother’s complaint in an 11-page letter to Reeves, which she attached to her formal response. Most notably, Manlove explains in detail why she chose not to charge the alleged perpetrator in the case, raising numerous arguments she said could be used by a defense attorney to question the credibility of the alleged victim and her mother. 

These potential arguments, Manlove writes, are largely due to “a failure on the part of the investigating agency (the Cheyenne Police Department) to communicate about evidence and a refusal to conduct necessary additional investigation.” Manlove says that, when affidavits related to the case were submitted to her office, CPD had not interviewed key witnesses and had not obtained important records that would have either refuted or corroborated evidence. 

“It is the responsibility of the submitting agency, when it receives the WSCL’s analysis, to share that analysis with the prosecutor’s office or, at the very least, to notify the prosecutor’s office that results are available,” which she says CPD did not do in this case until after she declined to prosecute. 

Manlove also accuses some CPD members of improper conduct, saying they’d taken on the role of “advocate” for the alleged victim and her family by attempting to pressure her office to prosecute the case. 

Also in her response, Manlove says certain “editorial comments” by Reeves in the second formal charge (saying Manlove has a “penchant for blaming others for her incompetence,” among other examples) “are nothing less than scandalous sound bites that were intentionally placed in the 2nd Formal Charge by (special bar counsel) with the hope that they would be published by the media – which has been the case.” 

She denied Reeves’ claims that she violated several of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys at Law. 

Manlove also issued a statement accompanying the formal response. 

While it does not directly address any of the accusations laid out in the Bar’s second charge, she references contact she had with Bar Counsel Mark Gifford in November 2020, after saying on local radio that she would not prosecute individuals for alleged violations of a countywide mask mandate. 

Throughout her communications with Gifford, she said, it was clear he “wanted a mandatory mask order from the governor’s office” because he called a mask order issued in Utah a “(sign) of hope” of “the start of a trend of courageous leadership in the Rocky Mountain West.” 

Over the past year, “Bar Counsel has harassed and tried to intimidate me in its unrelenting, unconstitutional and malicious attack to supersede the will of Laramie County voters by attempting to remove me as their elected DA,” she said in the statement. 

If Laramie County voters disagree with Manlove’s position that the mask mandate was wrong, the statement says, it is they who should decide to replace her, “not an unelected individual whose powerful position enables him to dictate his personal agenda to the people of this community by attacking my competence and ethics. Ultimately, the law and the facts will prove it is all meritless. 

“Litigation of this magnitude could ruin me financially, but I have done, and I will continue to do, the job I was elected to do, despite the enormity of the wrong being perpetrated on me by an individual who disagrees with my conservative policies,” the statement concluded. 

In her response, Manlove called the Bar’s assertions that it would seek recovery of costs from her for its investigation and future disciplinary proceedings an attempt to harass and intimidate her. 

Gifford declined to publicly comment on either the statement or the formal response. 

CPD Chief Mark Francisco also declined to respond to comments about the police department and its conduct. 

The first formal charge against Manlove was filed June 11 with the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility. 

Special Bar Counsel 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, as well as 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 to the first charge, Manlove denied the allegations against her, including that her alleged behavior violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct described in the charge.