Legislative panel seeks to clarify DA qualifications

CHEYENNE — In the closing minutes of its two-day meeting in Lander this week, the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee voted to draft a bill clarifying qualification requirements for district attorneys. 

Wyoming statute requires district attorneys to “have been a licensed attorney for at least four years and a member in good standing of the Wyoming State Bar immediately prior to his election.” 

The new draft, suggested by Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, would strike “immediately prior to his election” from the statute. 

Zwonitzer referenced the ongoing disciplinary proceedings involving Laramie County District Attorney Leigh Anne Manlove and her potential suspension or disbarment. If either of these were to occur, Manlove would not be able to practice law for at least a time, preventing her from carrying out vital functions.

Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne, explained to committee members that the state law “is somewhat ambiguous about what happens if one is not in good standing or is not licensed after elected and in an office.” 

Zwonitzer’s motion was seconded by Sen. John Kolb, R-Rock Springs. No committee member voted against the motion. The bill will likely be discussed at the committee’s next meeting in September. 

Formal charges filed last year with the Wyoming State Bar alleged Manlove had mishandled the prosecution of cases and inappropriately dismissed certain cases, and that she created a hostile work environment. 

Following an eight-day disciplinary hearing in February, a three-person panel chosen from the Bar’s Board of Professional Responsibility recommended Manlove lose her ability to practice law in Wyoming. The BPR is the hearing body for attorney discipline in the state. 

The Wyoming Supreme Court will ultimately decide on any consequences. 

Manlove is up for re-election in November, and her current term ends in January. She was elected in November 2018. 

It was unclear Thursday whether she would run for a second term, and she declined to comment. The filing deadline is Friday, May 27, for candidates who wish to be nominated through a party’s primary. 

If the state Supreme Court decides to disbar or suspend Manlove from practicing law while she is DA, “she would not be able to appear in court, argue cases, do anything that a lawyer does,” Bar Counsel Mark Gifford said in an interview immediately following the panel’s disbarment recommendation. 

In its official recommendation to the high court, this panel said that, “once elected, Wyoming law does not require a district attorney to be licensed and in good standing with the (Bar).” 

“The panel finds this to be evidence of (Manlove’s) fundamental lack of understanding of the law governing her position as Laramie County District Attorney,” the document continued. 

Manlove had rejected the idea that disbarment would not remove her from her elected position as DA, calling it “illogical.” 

Following reading of the disbarment recommendation in February, Stephen Melchior, Manlove’s attorney, told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle that, “until the Wyoming Supreme Court acts, Leigh Anne Manlove will continue to serve as the Laramie County district attorney, and she’s committed to serving the citizens of Laramie County as long as she remains in office.”