AG filing seeks to limit scope of Manlove charge

CHEYENNE — A Thursday court filing by the Wyoming Attorney General’s office seeks to prohibit the Wyoming State Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility from considering or adjudicating certain allegations set out in its recent formal charge against Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove. 

The petition for writ of prohibition asks the Wyoming Supreme Court to forbid the board from reviewing or making any decisions about complaints related to an alleged violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, as well as personnel matters described in the charge, saying they fall outside of the board’s jurisdiction. 

The formal charge alleges Manlove directed her staff not to report overtime, which is a complaint that would fall under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, according to the filing. By considering allegations that Manlove violated federal law, the board would be acting outside of its jurisdiction, as the board is limited to considering alleged violations of the Wyoming Rules of Professional Conduct, the Attorney General’s office wrote.

Determining an FLSA violation would fall to the U.S. Department of Labor and appropriate federal and state courts.

The State Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility is made up of six lawyers and three non-lawyers. According to the bar’s website, the board hears attorney discipline matters and may issue private reprimands or, in more serious cases that warrant public censure, suspension or disbarment, it makes a written recommendation to the Wyoming Supreme Court. 

Only the Supreme Court can order public discipline against attorneys. 

The filing says the State Bar had taken an “unprecedented” step by prosecuting Manlove for alleged overtime violations that would relate to federal law. 

The AG’s office also asked that the court prevent the board from adjudicating other personnel matters referred to in the formal charge, including allegations that Manlove “(purged) the District Attorney’s Office of competent attorneys and staff on her first day in office,” “failing to properly supervise her legal assistant” and “engaging in abusive behavior toward lawyers and office staff to a degree that they resigned their positions.” 

These kinds of complaints should be handled by the Human Resources Division of the Department of Administration and Information, the filing says. 

These allegations also do not fall under the board’s purview because they are not violations of Rule 1.1, “duty of competence,” as the formal charge claims, according to the Attorney General’s office. 

While Manlove’s alleged behavior pertains to “her conduct as a manager of State employees,” the filing says, Rule 1.1 requires that a lawyer provide competent representation to a client. 

The AG’s office also denies that Manlove’s alleged defiance of FLSA violated Rule 8.4(d), which says, “It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice.” 

The filing again says that, regardless, potential FLSA violations would fall outside the board’s jurisdiction, and the board has historically waited for the appropriate fact finder – in this case, the Department of Labor – to decide whether a law was broken, or for an attorney to plead guilty, before taking any action. 

Further, the filing says, if the board made findings about FLSA violations or personnel matters, the state could potentially be bound by those findings in future private action. 

Mark Gifford, attorney for the Wyoming State Bar, said he disagreed that the alleged FLSA violations and personnel matters fell outside of the board’s jurisdiction because they “constitute conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice,” which violates the Rules of Professional Conduct. 

He also said the alleged violations of Rule 1.1 “pertain to alleged incompetence in discharging Ms. Manlove’s duties as an elected prosecutor,” including the specific conduct described in the formal charge. 

A response to the petition will be filed with the Supreme Court within 15 days, Gifford said. After that, the court will decide how to proceed. 

The Attorney General’s office certified that the petition had not been filed in an attempt to delay proceedings. 

The 23-page formal charge against Manlove was filed June 11 with the State Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility by Special Bar Counsel W.W. Reeves. Based on what was found in the three investigations, Reeves asked the Board of Professional Responsibility to hold a formal disciplinary hearing into the allegations outlined within it, directly impose or recommend the Wyoming Supreme Court impose disciplinary measures against Manlove, and order Manlove to reimburse the State Bar for costs associated with the charge and hearing. 

On July 20, Manlove, through her attorney, Stephen Melchior, filed her formal response to the charge. 

The district attorney’s full response was 359 pages, with 42 of these written as point-by-point denials and admissions based on the charge’s assertions. The rest of the pages include documents and other evidence that are referred to in her response. 

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