Judge asks AG to review sexual assault case

CHEYENNE — A judge has asked the Wyoming Attorney General to review a Laramie County child sexual assault case, which the city of Cheyenne says the district attorney has declined to prosecute.

On Monday, Sweetwater County District Judge Suzannah Robinson granted the city’s motion for summary judgment, according to a Tuesday news release from the city. Robinson’s judgment said that, because Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove had a conflict of interest resulting from pending formal charges filed by the Wyoming State Bar, she would be unable to prosecute the case.

The alleged child sexual assault matter is included in the second of two formal charges pending against Manlove.

Along with the order, Robinson also sent a letter to Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill asking her office to investigate the underlying case and, if appropriate, prosecute the matter, the city said.

Neither the order nor the letter had been filed in Laramie County District Court as of late Tuesday afternoon. The city had not provided a copy of either document to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle by the time this story was published.

Hill did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Judith Studer, Manlove’s attorney in the matter, also did not immediately respond.

While the motion for summary judgment was placed in a confidential file, the response from Manlove and Studer regarding a possible conflict of interest was not.

In a Dec. 27 filing, Manlove said there was no actual conflict of interest. But because there may be a public perception of one, she said she would recuse herself from any future prosecution of the case, should alternate counsel be appointed. She suggested the city attorney’s office could be a logical choice to take on the investigation.

In the same filing, Manlove said the city’s claim that her office has declined or failed to prosecute the case was incorrect. The investigation is ongoing, as is the decision whether or not to prosecute the case, she said.

On Aug. 10, former City Attorney Mike O’Donnell, on behalf of the Cheyenne Police Department, filed a petition asking the Attorney General’s office to investigate and potentially prosecute the case.

The petition starts by asking the AG’s office to investigate Manlove’s “refusal to act and prosecute a criminal matter.” It explains that the department received a call about the sexual assault of a minor on Aug. 30, 2020. A probable cause affidavit was then submitted to Manlove’s office on Oct. 29, and a 32-page investigative report was completed on Nov. 2 by Detective Allison Baca.

It was not until June 7, 2021, that Baca had any communication with the District Attorney’s office regarding the affidavit in the case, the filing says, and on June 9, the police department received a “declination of case” letter from the DA’s office, “outlining numerous alleged deficiencies in the investigation of the case, and requested answers and additional information,” according to the petition.

Upon return from a vacation on or about June 21, Baca responded to Manlove’s questions, the petition says. Lt. Rob Dafoe, a former detective commander with CPD, then sent a letter to Manlove on July 2 with additional clarifications, also pointing out that some of the evidence or information requested had been available to Manlove’s office as early as January.

In his letter, obtained and written about by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle on Aug. 8, Dafoe expresses frustration that it took Manlove seven-and-a-half months to request further information, at the same time as she declined to prosecute the case. The detective called the disclosure, facts and probable cause in the alleged sexual abuse of a minor case “one of the most substantial I’ve seen in 20 years of law enforcement.”

O’Donnell’s successor, City Attorney Stefanie Boster, filed an amended petition providing additional information about a month after the original petition.

After the city filed its petition asking that the child sexual assault investigation be reassigned to the Attorney General’s office, Laramie County District Judge Peter Froelicher turned over responsibility of the case to Judge Robinson, a district judge in Sweetwater County.

Froelicher – along with the county’s other three district court judges and the county’s three circuit court judges – had sent a letter in December 2020 to the Wyoming State Bar, alleging Manlove was abusive toward her employees, causing an employment shortage, dismissed an excessive amount of cases and categorically refused to prosecute certain types of cases.

On June 11, Wyoming State Bar special counsel filed a formal charge against Manlove with the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility, alleging “incompetence and lack of professionalism.” It outlined three investigations it had undertaken against Manlove, one of which it said had been initiated by the Laramie County judges’ letter, which it called “unprecedented.”

Manlove filed her formal response to the charge July 20 through her attorney, Stephen Melchior. She largely denied the allegations against her, including that her alleged behavior violated any of the Rules of Professional Conduct described in the charge.

In the response, Manlove defended her exercise of prosecutorial discretion, denying an allegation she’d dismissed an excessive number of cases. These cases had been signed off on by Laramie County judges, she said, and further, all were dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning her office could recharge them in the future.

The State Bar charge alleged that it was not state 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 asserted her office’s caseload had “increased significantly,” while the number of state-funded attorneys available stayed the same, and staff positions decreased by two.

In a second formal charge, filed Oct. 18, the Bar alleged false statements and excuses by Manlove about her office not being able to access crime lab results had impeded the administration of justice in Laramie County. Manlove pushed back in her Nov. 8 response, saying it was up to law enforcement and other such agencies to notify her office about available evidence from the Wyoming State Crime Lab. Because of program limitations, the crime lab directly notifies agencies that submit evidence – not the DA’s office, she said.

A disciplinary hearing with the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility is currently scheduled for Feb. 2-11 in the Wyoming Ballroom at Little America Hotel & Resort, 2800 W. Lincolnway. It will be held in front of a three-person panel chosen from the full board, according to BPR clerk Brandi Robinson.